§ On the Question that the Orders of the Day be now read,
§ MR. HUME
said, that he wished to appeal to the Government, and to the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Fielden), with reference to the Order which stood first on the list (the Factories Bill, second reading). In a commercial country no question could be more important than one affecting the principles of labour. He was sorry to see that attempts had been made for some time past to interfere with the free application of labour—attempts which could not be reconciled with their general desire to set free every branch of commerce and of capital. He begged to suggest to the House, that a question of so much importance to the country should not be discussed in a thin House, when there were twenty Committees sitting, requiring the attendance of Members who might be anxious to take a part in the debate, and to request that the Government would give up some day at their disposal for this Bill, in order that it might be fully and fairly discussed.
§ SIR R. PEEL
So far as the importance of the subject is concerned, I should be willing to appropriate a Government night to its discussion; but it is really quite impossible that the business which the Government has already introduced to the House can make way for it. It is totally out of my power to yield a Government night for the Factories Bill, until those measures of commercial policy which are now before the House shall be disposed of.
§ MR. HUME
did not think that there was any particular necessity for hurrying the Factories Bill. After the Corn and Customs Bill should be disposed of, as it was probably the Bill of next importance, it might perhaps come on then?
§ SIR R. PEEL
I can assure the hon. Member that there is business of the utmost importance to be proceeded with independently of those measures to which he has referred.
§ MR. BANKES
hoped the hon. Member would not think it impertinent, after what had passed on his part, if he were asked whether, after the Corn Bill had passed, the hon. Member would vote for the Fac- 1215 tories Bill? [Mr. HUME: I shall oppose it in every stage.] Then, what were the friends of the measure to gain by delay? Wednesday was now the only day on which any public business was transacted, except business brought forward by the Government; and he must entreat the hon. Member for Oldham to persevere. When applied to some time since by some of the delegates from the manufacturing districts for his advice, his answer was, that the sooner the Bill was brought in the better; for he well recollected the mischievous effect of delay on a former occasion, when this Bill, after being approved by a decided majority in the House, was ultimately lost by an unfortunate consent to a short adjournment, which produced the unhappy result, not only of defeating the measure, but of bringing a certain degree of discredit on the House, from which it had not yet recovered. It was very desirable that the House should have an early opportunity of redeeming its character in regard to this subject, it having been greatly impugned by the change which unluckily took place in the opinion of hon. Members. The hon. Member for Oldham being now able to attend, he hoped nothing would prevent him from bringing this measure on at once; and, if the debate should be protracted beyond six o'clock, resuming it next day. The hon. and learned Member for Cork, who was in his place, would probably give way, as far as his Motion for to-morrow was concerned, and most likely the other hon. Members in the same situation.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, that a strong feeling had been excited in the manufacturing districts upon the subject of this Bill; and he thought, after the manner in which the feelings of the working classes had been trifled with on a former occasion, that the sooner their minds were set at rest the better. He also should be anxious, in the event of the debate being adjourned, that it should come on to-morrow immediately after the Privilege question. He would suggest to the right hon. Baronet, looking at the immense arrears of business, and its very unsatisfactory state at present, that he should at an earlier period than usual, take the Thursdays to himself for Government business. He as an individual Member was perfectly ready, and he was sure that others would concur with him, to give up his right to Thursday, in order that the public businsss might be proceeded with on that day.
§ MR. FORSTER
was of opinion that few subjects of greater importance could be brought before the House than the proposed Bill. Few things could be more important to a country depending upon its manufacturing industry, than a proposal for compulsorily shortening the hours of labour in every factory throughout that country. There was one subject, however, the discussion of which was more important still, and that was the proposal for providing food for the people. The suffering of the people was always the first thing deserving the attention and the sympathy of that House. He trusted, therefore, that he might be excused for drawing the attention of the House and of the Government to a statement which had recently been entrusted to him relative to the dreadful sufferings of the inhabitants of an obscure and remote part of the Empire—he alluded to the Orkney and Shetland Isles. He regretted the hon. Member for Durham was not in his place—he believed he was attending a Committee—because that hon. Member had presented a petition to that House early in the month of March, signed by 7,000 of the inhabitants of the Shetland Islands against the Corn Laws. He was not surprised that they should have petitioned that House on that important subject; because, on Monday last a paper had been put into his hands by a gentleman of the highest respectability intimately connected with those islands, detailing a state of dreadful distress and misery which existed there—a distress and misery which he believed might be clearly traced to the operation of the laws against which they had so earnestly petitioned that House. In order to put the House in possession of the facts of the case, he would at once read the statement to which he had referred; it was as follows:—Letters recently received from Shetland all concur in stating that the islands are on the brink of famine. The crops of corn, at no time adequate to the subsistence of more than half the population (about 32,000 souls), were very ill got in last season, and, to add to the calamity, the stock of potatoes which the people are in the habit of keeping in pits during the winter, and on which they rely in a great measure for sustenance during the spring and early part of the summer, have been found, on opening the pits, nearly all destroyed by rot. There is very little meal in the islands, and the people have no money to purchase it with. Their fish is the only commodity they have to give in exchange for bread. The almost only customers they now have for their fish are the Spaniards. From eight to ten sail of Spanish vessels now resort to the islands annually for cargoes of fish; 1217 and the Spanish merchants would be glad to send corn and flour in exchange for it, but the Corn Law prevents this from being done. A gentleman connected with the islands, resident in London, states that a vessel from Spain is now actually on the way to Shetland, in ballast, to load a cargo of fish, and would have taken a cargo of flour could the repeal of the Corn Laws have been depended upon.
Sir, I rise to order. Is the hon. Member in order in entering into a long statement about the Shetland Islands when the Motion is, "That the Order of the Day be read for proceeding with the Factories Bill?" Or, if he be in order, I would ask him, whether he be right in wasting the time of the House by bringing it forward now.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The House has not yet decided that it will proceed with the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Factories Bill. Any hon. Member, therefore, is in order in endeavouring to satisfy the House that it is not expedient to proceed with that Order.
§ MR. FORSTER
I appeal to the House against the imputation which has been thrown out by the hon. Member below me (Mr. Cowper). It is entirely unfounded. Surely the case of these unfortunate people may be stated to the House without subjecting the Member whose painful duty it is to bring it forward to the imputation of wilfully wasting the time of the House.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, that the course which the hon. Gentleman near him had thought proper to adopt, certainly did look like an indirect attempt to defeat the discussion on the Factories Bill, and he was satisfied that the public would so consider it.
§ MR. FORSTER
The statement which he was reading to the House when he was interrupted by the hon. Gentleman below him went on to say—In one respect the case of the poor Shetlanders is more desperate than that of the Irish. There are many great and wealthy landed proprietors connected with Ireland, who, it is to be presumed, cannot allow their tenantry to starve. In Shetland there are no such wealthy proprietors to whom a starving tenantry can look for adequate relief. The means of the few small proprietors in the Shetland Islands are very limited, and are already nearly exhausted by the necessities of a miserable tenantry. While Government is taking measures for rescuing the people of Ireland from famine, the case of the Shetlanders will surely not be overlooked.He thought that the present was not an 1218 unfitting opportunity for adverting to the consequence of the delay of those measures which had been proposed by Her Majesty's Ministers. He could assure the House that there was the utmost stagnation in every branch of commerce, and that that stagnation was universally attributed to the delay in passing the Corn Bill. The people had no doubt but the Corn Bill would pass that House, though they had their fear of its success in the other House. His opinion was, that if that Bill should not pass the House of Lords, they would see a state of things in this country such as the oldest man in England had never witnessed; such, even, perhaps, as would find no parallel in the history of the country: that was the consideration which alarmed commercial men; for who would enter into speculations when they might conclude in such a crisis as he had referred to? Commerce, they might rely upon it, was a timid bird, and would not take its flight in a storm. In addition, therefore, to pressing upon the House the distress existing in the Shetland islands, he implored them to let nothing interpose between them and the passing of those measures of commercial reform which were of such vast importance to every branch of industry in this country.
§ SIR R. PEEL
did not at all dispute the right of the hon. Member to speak upon the Motion for reading the Orders of the Day; but he must observe that he came down to the House at twelve o'clock that day in the fullest expectation that they would proceed with the Factory Bill. He did not call in question the right of hon. Gentlemen, but really he did think that they were not raising their character with the country by the exercise of that right. Notice was given that on a certain day a measure would be discussed, and he thought it would be to the public advantage, as well as maintaining their own character with the country, if they would facilitate the progress of business, and proceed with that measure. He hoped, then, there would not be any further continuation of discussion, except upon the Bill to be submitted to their attention. As to the passing of the Corn Bill, and the effect it would have in enabling those islanders to export fish to Spain, and receive corn and meal in return, he admitted that the bringing about such a result was desirable; but he did hope, that, on the present occasion, hon. Gentlemen would show forbearance in the exercise of their rights, the pressing of 1219 which very much interfered with the progress of business.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
agreed that it would be an abuse of a privilege if hon. Members took occasion of the Orders of the Day to bring on subjects not immediately before them, with the view of delaying Orders which were upon the Paper for the Day. He agreed to the general principle; but he certainly thought that the case which had been introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick was a special case. ["No, no!"] He had no doubt but that those hon. Gentlemen who called "No, no!" thought that he was occupying the time of the House for the purpose of delay; but what would his friends out of doors, who had asked him to press the case of the Shetlanders upon the House, say to him if he forebore to do so when it was brought under consideration? It was a question of the utmost importance—it was one of present starvation—of a people not having sufficient food to preserve their existence—and he had no hesitation in saying that the Factories Bill was not a question of such pressing emergency as that. It was a case in which he should have thought that ordinary rules might have been broken through; and he said that his hon. Friend was perfectly justified in pressing that case upon the attention of the House, and in calling upon the Government to explain whether they had taken, or whether they intended to take, steps for the purpose of guarding against the continuance of the distress which he had pointed out. The distress in Ireland had come repeatedly before the House on the Orders of the Day; and as the hon. Member who represented the Shetland islands, was not present to urge their condition upon the House, he contended that his hon. Friend was perfectly justified in the course which he had taken. He must take the liberty of saying, that he feared that the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who came down to that House professing to take such a deep interest in the Factories Bill, had been animated rather by feelings of hostility to the Government, and that they were looking to an opportunity of putting that Government in a minority, rather than to any other object. Perhaps he was not justified in making that remark; but certainly that was what struck him as being the case, more especially when he remembered the course which many hon. Members had taken on that very Bill on a previous occasion. He wished to direct the attention 1220 of the House to the fact that these Shetlanders had not petitioned the House for money—that they had not asked for any grants for public works, or to promote employment in Shetland. All that they asked was that they should have the right of exchanging their fish for the corn and meal of other countries. Their belief was that if those obstacles which had been put in the way of the interchange of their fish for the produce of other countries were removed, that their distress would be materially alleviated; and he would appeal now to the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. G. Bankes) whether that Shetland case was not quite conclusive with reference to the Corn question? Could the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why he persisted in refusing to those islanders the right of exchanging their fish for Spanish corn? Could he point out in what way he had any claim upon those people? Could he show how he had enabled them to catch the fish which they wanted to exchange for grain? Had the hon. Member supplied them with boats, or with fishing-tackle, or had he in any way facilitated the progress of their industry? If not, how could hon. Members urge that he had any claim upon them; and by what right did the hon. Members say that they should not be at liberty to exchange their fish for food, until they had paid a toll for the benefit of the other landowners of this country? He called upon the House, by passing the Corn Bill without delay, to relieve the distress which existed in those islands; and he had no hesitation in saying, that so long as hon. Members opposite presevered in opposing the Corn Bill, they were contributing to the starvation of those Shetlanders. It was a question well deserving of the attention of the House; and he for one was completely indifferent to any charges of delaying other business—he was completely indifferent to any insinuations which either hon. Members opposite or hon. Gentlemen near him might throw out, because he believed that in pressing most earnestly upon the House the necessity of immediately relieving their starving fellow countrymen, he was discharging a public duty second to no public duty which an hon. Member could be called upon to discharge in that House. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick that before they brought forward any other great question they should dispose of those two great measures already before them—the Corn and Customs Acts. 1221 The public mind could not occupy itself with half a dozen questions at the same time; it would be well, therefore, he thought, not further to interrupt the Orders of the Day, as by so doing they would only throw obstacles in the way of those great measures which had been introduced by Her Majesty's Ministers.
§ SIR R. INGLIS
would not have said a word on this subject but for an observation that had been made in the course of the speech they had just heard. He admitted that the hon. Member for Berwick was not out of order in bringing this subject before the House; but he contended that there was something higher than the order of that House, which it was becoming in all of them to respect. He submitted to hon. Gentleman opposite, if, while they were strictly and literally acting within the rules of the House, they were not absolutely violating its spirit? The hon. Member who last spoke, had permitted himself to impute motives to the Gentlemen with whom he (Sir R. Inglis) usually acted, and with whom he coincided on the present occasion. He had stated, first, that their object was to place Her Majesty's Ministers in a minority; and, secondly, that they came down to the House with reference to this question of the Factory Bill for no real interest in the factory children, but for paltry political motives. Now, he would take the liberty to state what might have been far better stated by many of his friends around him, that they yielded to none on either side of the House in a deep devotion to that cause, which was almost a sacred cause, that had brought them there that day, and which had brought them together at a time—two years ago—when they were more closely united than they now were; and when it was still more painful for them to differ from those to whom they had been accustomed to look up with respect. He would not believe for a moment that any of those who voted in the majority in favour of the Factory Bill were actuated by improper motives. He believed they entertained the views they did from a deep sense of their personal obligations, irrespective of any party considerations whatever; and let him tell the hon. Member for Manchester, whatever sympathies he might express with the inhabitants of the Shetland Isles, that they would find at least as much sympathy on the part of those around him, who might nevertheless regret that that opportunity had been selected for bringing their case 1222 forward. The hon. Member had taken no practical step. Had either of the hon. Members proposed any Motion to the House? No; but after the speeches of a dozen hon. Members upon the miseries of the Shetland Islands, still the Question which the Speaker would have to put would be "That the Orders of the Day be now read." He regretted that those hon. Members should have adopted the course which they had, for he feared that whilst they were not taking the most effectual means to relieve the misery of the Shetlanders, they were taking very effectual measures to prevent those unfortunate beings, whose hopes had been so grievously disappointed two years ago, from obtaining that redress which he trusted the measure of the hon. Member for Oldham would secure for them.
§ Order of the Day was then read.