HC Deb 26 January 1846 vol 89 cc487-98

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the laws relating to labour in factories, and spoke as follows: Sir, I propose to bring in a Bill with regard to the hours of labour in factories, similar, as regards persons between thirteen and eighteen years of age, in its provisions to one which the late Sir Robert Peel proposed to the House nearly thirty-two years ago—that is, I propose to limit the labour of young persons between the ages of thirteen and eighteen to twelve hours a day, allowing two hours out of the twelve for meals—that is, to ten hours actual work per day for five days in the week, and eight hours on Saturdays; and I propose to carry out this alteration by restricting the hours of actual labour to sixty-three hours in the week until the 1st of May, 1848; and after that period to fifty-eight hours in the week; and I propose, further, that the same restrictions shall apply to females above eighteen years of age. My reason for proposing this measure is, that the time of working young persons and females in factories is far too long, has been very mischievous, and, if persevered in, will become the cause of great national evils. I ask for it, also, because the people employed in factories have wished for it, and have long petitioned the Legislature to concede it to them; and because the ministers of religion, medical practitioners, and, indeed, all classes who have opportunities of observing the consequences of the present system, deprecate it as destructive of the moral and physical condition of a vast and most important class of the community. It is a question which involves the very existence of thousands who are, I am afraid, sacrificed annually for the want of those due and sufficient regulations without which the late Sir Robert Peel asserted that our improved machinery would become our bitterest curse. I will at once call the attention of the House to a document of authority on this subject, one which, I confess, startled me, though I have long been accustomed to fear the effects of the system we have been pursuing. I refer to "A Table of Deaths registered in 115 districts of England, during the quarter ending September 30, 1846"—that is, the autumn of the last year. In page 3 of this document, which is published by authority of the Registrar General of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, it is said, "The population of the extra-metropolitan district of Surrey was, in 1841, 187,868, and the population of the town sub-districts of Manchester was 163,856;" and that "in Manchester with this less population, the deaths registered in seven years—1838–44—were 39,992, and those in Surrey only 23,777, making a difference of 16,145." He then says— The population of Surrey exceeded that of Manchester; yet, in seven years 16,000 persons died in Manchester over and above the deaths in Surrey; the mortality in which, from the poverty of the labourer and slighter degrees of the influences so fatal in Manchester, is higher than it should be. There were 23,523 children under five years of age in Surrey, and the deaths of children of that age were 7,364; the children in Manchester were 21,152, the deaths 20,726! In the seven years 13,362 children in Manchester alone fell a sacrifice to known causes, which it is believed may be removed to a great extent, and the victims in Liverpool were not less numerous. Other parts, and particularly the towns of England, are similarly afflicted. In the same page follow these remarks:— The returns of the past quarter prove that nothing effectual has been done to put a stop to the disease, suffering, and death in which so many thousands perish. The improvements, chiefly of a showy, superficial, outside character, have not reached the homes and habits of the people. The house and children of a labouring man can only be kept clean and healthy by the assiduous labour of a well-trained, industrious wife, as any one who has paid the least attention to the subject is aware. This is overlooked in Lancashire, where the woman is often engaged in labour from home. The consequence is that thousands, not only of the children, but of the men and women themselves, perished of the diseases formerly so fatal for the same reasons in barracks, camps, gaols, and ships. In the same page an extract, given from a report of the registrar of Heaton Norris, Stockport, says— Of the 121 persons, 53 were children of one year and under; and of these deaths of infants, the causes were certified by a medical attendant in only 28 cases. It is to be feared that many at this age are lost for want of medical assistance and care of the mother, who is soon obliged to leave her child in other hands, and go further to engage in constant and unwholesome toil. The child sickens, and is soothed by opiates. In the same page, a quotation of a similar nature is given from the registrar of Deansgate, Manchester, who concludes thus:— In all Manchester there is but one children's dispensary, and this has but two medical officers. Such institutions should be numerous in large towns, and much good might be effected; but the unfortunate out-door occupation of the women, by causing the withholding of nature's nutriment from the children is terribly destructive of the latter. In page 4, the Registrar General sums up this appalling picture by stating that— In Manchester 13,362 children perished in seven years over and above the mortality natural to mankind. These 'little children,' brought up in unclean dwellings and impure streets, were left alone long days by their mothers to breathe the subtle sickly vapours, soothed by opium—a more 'cursed' distillation than 'hebenon'—and when assailed by mortal diseases, their stomachs torn, their bodies convulsed, their brains bewildered, left to die without medical aid, which, like hope, should 'come to all,' the skilled medical man never being called in at all, or only summoned to witness the death and sanction the funeral. Sir, I cannot quote these official reports without recalling to the attention of the House, that for many, many years, statements of a similar nature, though perhaps not so shocking in degree, have been brought before it by the late Mr. Sadler, by Mr. Oastler, and, more recently, by Lord Ashley; but always so strenuously denied by the manufacturing body that the Parliament had remained incredulous. You are now told, from authority, and in figures not to be disputed, how awful is the destruction of human life in our principal manufacturing towns; you are told distinctly that one of its chief causes is the "constant and unwholesome toil" of mothers, who are compelled to leave their offspring "long days alone to breathe sickly vapours soothed by opiates," "withholding nature's nutriment," to their destruction. I agree, Sir, with the Registrar General, that the "house and children of a labouring man can only be kept clean and healthy by the assiduous labour of a well-trained industrious wife." I agree with him, also, in his just but severe remark, that "this is overlooked in Lancashire, where the woman is often engaged in labour from home." Agreeing with him, and knowing well the truth of his remarks, I have framed this Bill, with the hope that this House will no longer overlook the fruitful cause of such wide-spread death as the Registrar General has recorded; but that it will sanction at once the restriction which I propose with regard to females, in order to stop this frightful state of things. I hear men talk very glibly of the "horrors of war;" and I believe there is in this country a "Peace-preservation Society," whose object is to show mankind that nations, to avoid such horrors, should always remain at peace. I applaud their efforts; but let me ask what are the "horrors of war," but a wholesale sacrifice of human life now and then occurring? They are "horrors," and I respect those who bestow the energy of their minds in endeavours to convince the world of their futility and wickedness; but when the Registrar General, in the document I have quoted, notifies to us the horrible sacrifice of human life that is annually perpetrated in our manufacturing towns, far exceeding the average sacrifice of life by war, I think we should give an earnest of our sincere desire to avoid such horrors by immediately setting to work, in every practical form, to effect the object at home. As to the young persons between thirteen and eighteen, whom I call children, no one, I should think, can, in the abstract, object to their labour being curtailed to ten hours per day. It is the most critical period of life; it was well ascertained that they have not now the opportunities of healthful recreation and of moral instruction that they absolutely require, and that their physical powers are, in many cases, destroyed. The only argument that I anticipate against it is "the tyrant's plea," the plea of necessity. I expect to hear that to reduce the hours of work of the child to such as is compatible with his strength and his necessary moral training, will indirectly curtail the hours of labour of the adult workman with whom the child performs his labour; that this is a legislative interference between master and man; and it is contrary to the principles of political economy. I understand the words "political economy" to mean the mode of rightly governing a State; and my opponents have always asserted that any interference, by legislative enactment, between master and man, is a violation of the proper mode of governing. Let them recollect that they have all, whether as ministers or manufacturers, defined the labourer and the master to be two dealers—the first a man who sells the commodity called "labour," and the other, a man who buys that same commodity. They have defined them to be two dealers in one commodity. I ask my opponents to take their own definition, and tell me why it is contrary to the principles of political economy to interfere between these two dealers in the commodity called labour, any more than between any other dealers? If they show that it is contrary to the principles of political economy to interfere between two adult dealers in labour, then they will show that the same principle prevails when the dealings between those two persons involves the sacrifice of helpless children of both sexes. For my part, Sir, I think that a leading principle of political economy is, the care of the lives, the health, and the morals of the people; and it is upon the ground that the life, health, and morality of the young persons, and of women, are sacrificed by too long hours work in our factories, that I ask leave to bring in this Bill. I must remind the House that, in 1833, it passed an Act for emancipating the black slaves of our West Indian colonies, in which a clause was inserted restricting the labour of the emancipated adult negro to forty-five hours in a week—a shorter period by thirteen hours than the English factory child claims at our hands, many of whom have to work in rooms of as high a temperature as that of the colonies. Sir, I wish to assure the House that the working people are now as anxious as ever for the abridgment of labour that this Bill would enact. I remember a remarkable saying, put forward by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden), in the factory debate on the 22nd of May last, and reported thus:— If this measure were staved off for but one twelvemonth, he was assured that the admissions that had been made upon this subject would change the views of the working classes, and, instead of seeking for a law to compel short hours for their labour, they would see the superior advantages of leaving the question to be settled by the mutual arrangement of master and man, under such circumstances as would not cause a diminution of the wages. Now, more than two-thirds of the twelvemonths have passed away, and I have gained much instruction on the feelings of the working people in factories in that time. I have attended all their meetings that I could with convenience, and I have carefully watched the reported proceedings of others; and I can safely say that not one word of this prophecy has been fulfilled, but just the contrary. The factory hands are more determined than ever to have a Ten Hours Bill. They have entreated the masters to shorten the hours of work voluntarily, and sustain wages. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton (Mr. Hindley) has been assisting them, but their efforts have failed, and now some are working twelve hours, some eight hours, some six hours, some a less number, and some mills are altogether closed. Nothing like ten hours a day, on an average, are now being worked in the factories of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and yet there is no "mutual arrangement of masters and men" in regard to working their mills an uniform number of hours. While some children are being overworked, others have no work at all, and have to starve for want of the necessaries of life. If the Ten Hours Bill had passed last Session, I believe that much of the suffering now going on, and to be expected, would have been avoided, and the hands at the factories would have been working ten hours a day. Short time, such as now prevails, disturbs all things; puts workpeople on less wages, and manufacturers take advantage of the state of things to reduce wages, which do not rise again so readily as they fall. But the evil does not stop here. As regards the spinners and manufacturers themselves, the weaker and poorer manufacturers suffer by it the most. Of necessity they sell their goods as they are produced, and almost invariably at a loss in seasons of bad trade. The wealthier lay up stocks of goods in those times of depression, if materials and labour are low, and when the demand revives, and prices of materials and wages rise, they bring their stocks into the market, undersell their poorer competitors, and prevent them from recovering their losses for a longer time than would otherwise be the case, and an increase of insolvencies and bankruptcies follow, all of which would have been prevented by proper regulation. When the employers are ruined, their workpeople are thrown out of work, and have to suffer the evils of excessive poverty. What justification can be urged for working young children and women to death in factories, to promote a system which tends to so much suffering both amongst employers and the employed? In conclusion I beg to state, that it is a ten and not an eleven hours Bill that those employed in factories supplicate this House to grant. An eleven hours bill would not remedy the evils complained of; it would not give satisfaction, nor stop the agitation on this question; and, as I know from long experience that what they seek is reasonable and ought to be conceded, I implore the House to pass a Ten Hours Bill.


remarked that the Bill which the hon. Gentleman had just introduced was similar to that which had been introduced last Session, with the ex- ception of slightly varying in form from that Bill. The first clause proposed to abridge the hours of labour in the case of young persons only, in which class are ranked all from thirteen to eighteen years of age, from twelve to eleven hours. The second clause proposed, after a given time, further to reduce the hours of labour to ten hours a day; and the third clause proposed that these two restrictions in reference to young persons should be extended to the case of female labourers. He hoped that there would be no discussion upon the Bill upon the present occasion, as the House would undoubtedly consent to the introduction of the Bill, reserving all discussion upon it until it was brought up for a second reading. He deemed it proper, however, on the present occasion, to guard himself against being supposed to acquiesce in the construction put upon, or rather upon the inference drawn from, the last report of the Registrar General—a very remarkable document, and one very well worthy the attention of the House. The hon. Gentleman seemed to infer that a strong proof was afforded in that document of an increased mortality amongst those who were engaged in factory labour, as compared with the population of the rural districts. So far as he recollected, his impression of that document was, that it afforded evidence of an increased mortality in crowded cities, where population had rapidly increased, as compared with the rural population. He believed that the hon. Gentleman would find that the mortality was greater, in proportion to its population, in Liverpool than it was in Manchester. The document referred to was well worthy the attention of the House, with reference to the necessity which existed for stringent sanatory regulations, particularly in the case of large towns. He would not at present enter further into the question, but would give his consent to the introduction of the Bill.


opposed the introduction of the Bill. He said he admitted the evil which existed, still he thought it right to protest against a measure which would militate so much against the interests of commerce without being advantageous to any class. If they legislated for those employed in factories, they should also take into consideration the hundred thousand female servants in London, who were most severely used by their masters and mistresses. An hon. Member beside him said they had not petitioned; but he considered it was the duty of that House to remedy a grievance whether it was petitioned against or not. He thought that the adoption of the present measure would tend to a reduction of the rate of wages; persons employed in factories would be thrown out of employment, and thereby increase the amount of competition in the other branches of labour. In his opinion the principles of non-interference were those which should be adopted by the State, and the adoption of any other principle would lead only to great harm and inextricable confusion. And it lay on the supporters of the measure to make out an exception from this great principle of political economy. This, he conceived, they had not, however, done, and it was safer to abide by these principles. He should divide the House on the subject.


did not wish to enter into the discussion of the subject. He rose merely to remark, that the object of the hon. Member who had just addressed the House, seemed to be to show that the Legislature had no right to interfere with him in walloping his own ass. He begged to remind that hon. Member, however, that the Legislature had passed a Bill for the protection of animals; and he (Mr. Ferrand) did not see, when they prevented harshness and cruelty to animals, upon what ground the poor factory workers should not have the same protection extended to them. It was said two or three Sessions ago, by an hon. Member who was now in the Cabinet, that there was no strike among the operatives in favour of the Ten Hours Bill. The fact was, that the workmen were anxious to obtain protection, if possible, without a strike. They came to that House year after year asking them to grant protection to their wives and daughters; and he thought, with the First Minister of the Crown, that that protection ought to be given. Nay, more, he thought that it would be a disgrace to the world to allow the present system to continue any longer; and he was glad that the hon. Member for Oldham had brought the question again before the House. He was delighted also to hear that it was probable that the Bill which his hon. Friend introduced, would receive some support from Her Majesty's Government; at least, so he understood from a speech that had been made by the Secretary of the Admiralty to his constituents at Sheffield. If this were the case, the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) would excite a feeling of grati- tude in the manufacturing districts, which would not be forgotten during the lives of the present generation of factory workers. He implored the House, on bended knees, to carry this Bill. If, however, they should refuse to grant the protection which was asked to the women and children of the factory districts—if they said they would not legislate for the happiness and comfort of their homes, they might depend upon it that ere long a spirit would be aroused in the north of England, which would convince them that it was a foolish assertion on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had taunted them that they were not striking on the subject, and, therefore, there was no use in acceding to the claims which were urged on their behalf before the House. He trusted that no Member would be found to second the Motion of the hon. Member who had last addressed the House; and that, at least, they would show they had sufficient sympathy with the claims of the poor, to allow the Motion of the hon. Member for Oldham to pass without a division.


expressed his satisfaction that the hon. Member for Oldham had brought forward this measure at so early a period of the Session, so as to give them the fullest opportunity of calmly and fairly considering a question of so much importance to the working classes of this country. For himself, he must say that he considered the Ten Hours Bill a just measure. The only arguments he had heard against the interference of the Legislature upon this most important subject, were those which were usually urged by those who emphatically called themselves political economists. Now, he thought that, rightly understood, political economy afforded the rules of sound reasoning for the government of legislation; but there was a certain sort of political economists who never listened to reason on this subject, and who carried their argument to an extreme that did not apply to the question now under discussion. The argument of the hon. Member for Tavistock, for instance, just amounted to this: he said, "Don't interfere with the labour of the young people working in the factories, because if you do, why don't you also legislate for the female servants throughout the city of London?" The hon. Member did not seem to see that the two cases were utterly dissimilar. The Legislature was called upon to interfere on behalf of young persons who could not protect themselves, according to the rules of political economy. They were not called upon to interfere with female servants, because they were all supposed to be persons who were able to make a bargain with their masters; whereas most of the persons to whom this Bill applied were unable to make a bargain for themselves—the power of capital was so overwhelming — and they, therefore, asked that House, as a matter of humanity, to assist them in their difficulty. He most cordially seconded the Motion of the hon. Member for Oldham; and he thought the House was much indebted to him for the calm and temperate manner in which he had stated his case.


Sir, I regret that the hon. Member for Tavistock has intimated his intention of resisting the first reading of this Bill. I retain the opinions which I have held heretofore on this question. I retain those opinions, not because I am indifferent to the interests of those who are employed in factory labour, but because I entertain a sincere and conscientious conviction that we are not promoting their permanent interest by interfering in the manner they would wish us; and yet it is, as I think, perfectly consistent with the maintenance of those opinions that I should express regret at the present opposition of the hon. Member. In discussions of this kind, feeling enters as well as reason. To reject the Bill at this stage, would not be respectful to that great class of society whose welfare it is our duty to attend to. I thought there was a general impression at the commencement of this discussion, that leave would be given to bring in this Bill; that, in short, the same course would be followed this year as was followed the last year; that we should wait until after having seen the Bill, when we could apply ourselves to its discussion in a way in which the merits of the question could be entered into more fully than we can possibly do now. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, abstained from entering into the discussion, in the expectation that leave would be given to bring in the Bill. That was my own impression; and I think that, if ultimately the House should come to a decision on it adverse to the wishes of the parties, it would still be most desirable that that opinion should be taken after due consideration of the matter, and in a manner which would conciliate their feelings. I am, therefore, although entertaining the opinions I expressed last year, not prepared to take the course recommended by the hon. Gentleman, in imperatively refusing an opportunity of considering the matter more fully than it is possible it can be just now.


would only add, to what had been said by the right hon. Baronet, that to act in the way recommended by the hon. Member for Tavistock, would not be doing justice to his own principles, because what he, as one of the supporters of the same views as the hon. Member, asked for was, that the subject should receive the fullest investigation. He held the opinion, which he had formed after the most mature consideration of the question, that masters and labourers should be at liberty to make what agreements they thought fit with respect both to hours and to wages. It was upon this principle that the House had swept away seventy or eighty Bills which had interfered with labour. He asked the House, then, to allow the subject to be fully discussed. He was perfectly satisfied that out of the discussion they would receive a great deal of information, even from those who conscientiously believed that the Bill would do good. In his opinion, it would do great injury even to the parties who were seeking it. He had received a great number of communications from different persons, all wishing that the subject should have the fairest and fullest discussion, and he hoped it would not be refused.


heartily agreed in the suggestions which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman; but there was a statement which had been made by the hon. Member for Knaresborough, and not denied on the Ministerial side of the House, upon which he (Mr. Escott) wished to have a distinct understanding. He wished to know whether the hon. Member for Knaresborough had rightly interpreted the intention of Government to support the Bill, or whether the Government intended at some future stage to exert themselves in opposition to it, or whether, as was perhaps the more probable case, it was not to be made a Government question at all? He was aware that some Members of the Government had expressed an opinion in favour of a measure of this kind, and others of them against it; and he presumed, therefore, that it would be made an open question, on which the Members of Government would take that side which each deemed most essential to the public interest. He felt quite sure that he would receive a dis- tinct answer to the question he now put, as it would be satisfactory to the great interests concerned to know the decision of Government on this subject.


begged to withdraw his opposition to the first reading, in deference to the opinion of the House.


, having received no answer to his question, begged to repeat it. [Cries of "Order, order!"] I am not aware that I am out of order in putting a question to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. [Renewed cries of "Order!"] I appeal to you, Sir, if I am out of order?


You are out of order in speaking twice.


I hope, Sir, without meaning any discourtesy to you, I may be allowed to repeat the question which I put a little while ago, as to the future intentions of Government with respect to their support or opposition to this Bill?


I may just say that it seems agreed on all hands that the Bill should be read a first time without opposition; when we come to a future stage, I shall be prepared to state what course the Government will take.

Leave given. Bill brought in and read a first time.