HC Deb 29 March 1844 vol 73 cc1666-71
Sir J. Graham

in rising to move for leave to bring in the New Factories Bill said,—The House will remember that in the earlier part of the evening the Bill which I had the honour of introducing at a firmer period of the Session was, by permission of the House, withdrawn; and I understand that the feeling was pretty general in the House that leave should be given to introduce another Bill. Something, however, which fell from the hon. Member for Finsbury led me to suppose there would be some opposition, but I trust that I shall be allowed to introduce it unopposed on the present occasion. At the same time, it is right that I should state to the House the precise nature of the Bill which I now ask for leave to bring in. The Bill which was withdrawn was a Bill repealing all former Acts with regard to employment in factories. The Bill which I now ask leave to introduce does not repeal any other former laws but introduces certain Amendments into the existing law. Speaking generally, the Amendments I seek to introduce are Amendments recommended by the Committee which sat in 1840. In fact only one Amendment which I ask to introduce is not included in that recommendation. First, with respect to the Amendments recommended by the Committee. I seek by the Bill which I now ask leave to introduce to provide that children shall not work in any factory employed in the manufacture of silk, flax, woollen, and cotton, longer than six hours and a half, between the age of eight and eleven in silk, and eight and thirteen in flax, woollen and cotton, and, that they shall in no case work both in the forenoon and afternoon of the same day. I propose also to introduce another provision. In some factories the labour is not extended beyond ten hours each day. Where that is the case, for the convenience of manufacturers, I would propose (although it is not included in the recommendations of the Committee) that children may work for ten hours in a day, provided they work on alternate days only. I propose also to introduce an important alteration in the existing law, with respect to certificates. As the law now stands, the surgeon can only grant his certificate on the appearance of the child as to his age. I propose to extend that bower, and to give the surgeon the power of certifying whether the health and strength of the child are sufficient to justify his recommendation that he may be employed even for the limited number of hours; and I also propose to allow evidence to be adduced as to the actual age of the child. I propose also, in conformity with the recommendation of the Committee, that such machinery as shall be specified in the Bill as being of a dangerous character shall be guarded for the purpose of preventing accidents; that it shall be "boxed off," as it is termed, and surrounded with guards for the protection of the persons employed. I also propose to enact, for the first time, that all accidents, without reference to age, in each factory, shall be recorded as they occur, and reported to the inspector; and I further propose to give to the Secretary of State the power, on the report of the inspector, of ordering prosecutions to be instituted, and actions to be brought against the owner of the factory for damages for accidents that may occur by reason of a neglect to "box off," or guard the machinery, pursuant to the other provisions of the Bill. I further propose, with respect to the damages that may be recovered in such actions, that it shall be competent to the Executive Government to pay over such damages to the parties who may have received the injury, or, if they should be infants, then to their natural guardians. I also propose, for the first time, and not in conformity with the recommendations of the Committee, as I stated in answer to the question put to me by my noble Friend the Member for Dorsetshire, to provide that females shall not be permitted to work in factories for a longer time than is by law allowed to young persons, that is to say, for the limited time of twelve hours. I think, Sir, I have now gone through the principal alterations in the law which I propose to make by the Bill I ask leave to introduce; and having stated succinctly, but fully, all the alterations I propose, I now ask leave to introduce the Bill.

Mr. T. Duncombe

The right hon. Baronet might have saved the House the trouble of his statement, if he had said that his new Bill was precisely the same as the one withdrawn, save and except the Repealing of all former Acts. The former Bill did Repeal all former Acts. This new Bill left them the same. Therefore, he repeated, the right hon. Gentleman might have made a statement which might have been much shorter and equally satisfactory to the House. How far this new Bill would be satisfactory to the public in general he must leave to time to prove. Whether it would be satisfactory to that House time also must prove. It was quite clear that those who had opposed the right hon. Baronet one night supported him the next. But the people of England must no longer be deluded. The advantage which had been gained on a former evening had been wholly lost. There was an end of all the gain as to the limitation of the hours of work for females, and there was to be another twelve hours Bill. Three times had that House told the men of England that their wives and Young children should not be worked more than ten hours a clay; that to work beyond hat time was a state of slavery which they ought not to submit to. The right hon. Baronet by his Bill was about to perpetuate that slavery. That being the case, he did hope the people of England would no longer be deluded. They must trust now entirely to themselves—that was clear. Three times had the House decided in their favour, and yet the Ministers had reversed the decision. The question now lay with the people to agitate. It must be left to The Times Newspaper and to the energies of the people to carry that which he did believe was the object of the greater portion of the labouring classes at the present moment. In due time they would have other sham movements; but no man in that House could ever expect that the noble Lord the Member for Dorsetshire would be able to collect again the force he had once got together. The right hon. Baronet would carry his Bill. The ten hours principle was gone. The eleven hours was gone. And now the poor females would have to work the twelve hours. He wished the right hon. Baronet joy of the triumph he had achieved; but at the same time he did most cordially condole with those unfortunate persons who would have hereafter to toil, in order that the right hon. Gentleman might be retained in office.

Mr. Borthwick

protested against its being said that hon. Gentlemen were now supported by those who opposed them before. The Government were compelled to take the course they had done. The opponents of the Government measure had been denounced in another place as "hypocrites," by an individual who was certainly illustrious for his talent, but who was the Jack Cade of all Jack Cades. In 1837, when the West India apprenticeship system was brought forward by that noble Lord and carried, what was his course with regard to the widows and orphans who possessed property in their fellow men? His motto then was, "Fiat justitia, ruat cœlum:" but now that noble Lord would guard the accumulation of manufacturing wealth against the dangerous inroads of women and children. He hoped the House would take care that they did not commit themselves by affirming propositions which they were not prepared to carry out in detail through all the provisions of the new Bill.

Mr. Hume

thought the Government had pursued a proper course in withdrawing the Bill which had lately been the subject of discussion; but, at the same time, he thought they were acting improperly in introducing the Measure which had just been laid upon the Table. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) was, he conceived, violating all former precedent in proposing such an interference with labour. The right hon. Gentleman was attempting, now, to interfere with adult labour; and he (Mr. Hume) considered the step so dangerous, that he sincerely hoped this Bill would not be allowed to pass into a law. He agreed with the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) that persons who were obliged to labour for so long a time as these factory operatives were literally slaves; but were there no other slaves in this country but factory slaves? Did not the same system of excessive labour exist throughout all classes of the community? He would advise the right hon. Baronet to direct his attention to the causes of the present distress. He believed that those who were most anxious to carry a ten hours Bill had been led away, in a great degree, by misrepresentation; and he conceived it was the duty of the Government, after the information they had received to-day, to inquire whether the representations which led to this attempted encroachment on the liberty of labour were or were not correct. He believed also that if the right hon. Baronet would appoint a Committee to hear evidence, and go into details, he would be convinced of the impropriety of the course he had taken, and would at once withdraw this Bill. They ought to look to the root of the evil, and remove the impediments to labour.

Mr. B. Hawes

said, it was his intention to support the proposal of the noble Lord (Lord Ashley.) The former Factories 13i11 proceeded from a Government who were generally in favour of relieving trade from the many restrictions which now pressed upon it. He believed that in 1833 the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) was a colleague in the Ministry with the late Lord Sydenham, who was anxious to relieve the trade of the country from its present restrictions. He inferred, therefore, that at that time the right hon. Baronet himself was a friend to free-trade. At that time a Factory Bill, restricting the hours of labour in the case of young persons, was adopted; and he had no objection to such a measure, proceeding as it did from a Government favourable to the relief and extension of trade. But the case was widely different now, and the Government were introducing a new principle—that of restricting adult labour. It was well known that nearly one-half the operatives in the factory districts were females; the Government were, therefore, proposing a restriction which would operate upon half the adult labour. The consequences of our present restrictive system were most injurious to this country; our foreign trade was placed in jeopardy; and capitalists, in order to realize the profits adequate, had recourse to the excessive toil of factory labour. He contended, then, that while they maintained a restrictive system which induced such excessive labour, they ought in justice to impose some limit upon that toil. Upon this ground, then, and also on the authority of the Reports of the Factory Inspectors, which stated that under existing circumstances the hours of labour might be safely reduced, it was his intention to support the Amendment of the noble Member for Dorsetshire. He might refer the House especially to the Reports of Mr. Horner, and of Mr. Saunders. One of those gentlemen stated that he thought eleven hours was a period of labour which might safely be fixed upon; and the other observed that there was great danger in forming a population, the whole of whose time was occupied between work and their natural rest, and who were consequently in it state of extreme ignorance. If that House was determined to uphold restrictions upon trade he would endeavour to surround the labourer with greater protection. When those restrictions were removed, the operatives might be safely left to go into the labour-market unfettered, for he believed that they would then, without any excessive amount of labour, be able to obtain an ample supply of the necessaries of life. When, therefore, the noble Lord again moved his Amendment, he would give it his support.

Sir C. Napier

hoped that, after Easter, they would find all hon. Gentlemen who had before taken part on this question against the Bill as sturdy as the hon. Member for Evesham, and that while they supported the ten hours Amendment, they would give their unqualified opposition to the twelve hours Bill. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), in the course of his very persuasive speech to-night, turned round to an hon. Gentleman near hire, and said he was satisfied that, three months hence, they would have a better opinion of him (Sir J. Graham) for having maintained his position than they would have entertained had he given way on this question. He thought they need not take three months to consider that. He would give them till the Easter holydays were over. He feared, however, that some hon Gentlemen would go down home, and read over all the speeches that had been made on this subject—the right hon. Baronet's as well as others, and then they would return to town with a fixed determination to prevent the present Government from going out of office. The right hon. Baronet only had to say to his Friends, "Gentlemen, if I lose this Bill I shall not remain in office; take your choice of me or the hon. Gentlemen opposite," this would be effectual in bringing round all the right hon. Gentleman's wavering Friends.

Leave given.

Bill brought in and read a first time.