§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, that the hon. Member who had moved the second reading of the Bill in six months, had so fully sot out the grounds of opposition, that it was hardly necessary to go over them now. As, however, the proposition was again before the House, he (Mr. Gibson) would state briefly his reasons for opposing the second reading. The hon. Baronet the mover of the Bill had stated that he was only desirous of referring the Bill to a Select Committee, in order that other Members of the House might share his re- 262 sponsibility before the measure was finally submitted to Parliament. But although it might seem plausible enough when a case of distress had been made out, and a proposal of relief submitted, that a Committee of Inquiry should be appointed, still it must be borne in mind that if the House read the Bill a second time, and then referred it to a Select Committee, it would stand committed to the principle of the measure, and would give its assent to the principle of regulating wages by Act of Parliament. He, for one, could not give his adhesion to that principle; and on that ground he felt it his duty to oppose referring the Bill to a Select Committee. The hon. Baronet had brought forward a measure last year on the same subject, but wholly of a different character to the pre-sent. The former Bill merely applied regulations by which the workmen would be able to procure evidence of what the contracts were into which he had entered with his masters; but the measure now before the House proposed to state what the contracts themselves should be—to enact that certain contracts should not be allowed to be made at all—and that certain modes of employing working people shall not be permitted, and, in fact, for the confiscation of property in a certain kind of machinery. He contended that this was a totally novel principle; he doubted if a single Act of the Legislature could be produced which so directly tended to the confiscation of property as this, which proposed that if a man let out his property for hire, and received rent for the use of it, the act should be illegal. The measure of last Session, therefore, could not be adduced as an argument in favour of the measure now proposed. The principle of this measure appeared to him to be fraught with evil to the working classes themselves. The advocates of the Bill proceeded upon the assumption that the working people in the frame-knitting districts were so helpless and defenceless that they needed the protection of the Legislature against all kinds of arbitrary extortion on the part of their employers. If that were so, and if by the interference of the Legislature the cost of the production of the hosiery manufacture was increased, what argument had been adduced to show that the increased cost of the production would not fall upon these helpless working people? If they were so helpless as represented, and if the increased cost fell upon them, as he contended it would, 263 then an injury would be inflicted, instead of a benefit being conferred upon them. How was it supposed that House could undertake to carry on the manufacture of hosiery, and to prescribe to the masters the best mode of conducting their business? But take the other view, and suppose that the cost of production was not increased. Suppose even that a saving in the manufacture were effected, what argument had been used to show that that saving would go into the pockets of the labourers? A more illogical conclusion had never been arrived at than the proposition that because a saving was effected in a manufacture, the whole of it would go to the wages of labour. He contended, that by this Bill no such alteration would be made in the distribution of the fund from which labour was paid, as that a larger amount of wages would be received by the labourer. An inquiry had been instituted into the subject by a very able and intelligent gentleman, Mr. Muggeridge, and nothing was contained in his report to lead to the supposition that a measure such as this was necessary to relieve the distress which was admitted to prevail among these workpeople. The inference might be drawn, that Mr. Muggeridge was of opinion that something ought to be done for the relief of that distress; but there was nothing in his report showing that he considered a measure like that now proposed calculated to effect that object. On the contrary Mr. Muggeridge stated, that among the points established by evidence was this—that it was in vain to expect that the condition of the framework knitters could be improved by legislation. He pointed out other means, such as lessening the numbers of those brought up to this profitless occupation. Whole families were trained to it, and the number in the market was greater than the demand could carry off. While this lasted, Mr. Muggeridge observed, cases of poverty and distress must be very numerous. Framework knitting was an art easy to acquire by almost any one; and there being such large numbers of poor persons seeking for employment, they naturally flocked to an occupation which required no apprenticeship to master, depressing the wages of labour more than in other pursuits in which the labour was more skilled. It did not appear that the hon. Baronet and his Friends were quite satisfied with their own proposal; and if they evinced a want of confidence in it, it was not very likely that he should feel any the more encouragement 264 to assent to it. This was a question of interference with a large branch of our manufactures, and of disturbing the relations between masters and their workpeople, which had grown up during a great number of years; and in such a case the views of those who proposed to make any alteration should at all events be clear and decided. But the hon. Member for Leicester and the hon. Member for Finsbury differed from each other in the most essential points of the Bill. The hon. Member for Finsbury was doubtful whether the abolition of the frame rents could be accomplished in the way proposed; and yet that was one of the most essential features of the Bill of the hon. Baronet; because, if this frame rent were allowed to exist, from what quarter was to come the proposed increase of wages, to the workpeople? How did the hon. Member for Finsbury propose to increase the wages, if he did not take the course which the hon. Baronet said was the only mode of doing it? Considering these differences of opinion, he (Mr. Gibson) approached the question with still greater difficulty and hesitation than he should otherwise have felt. If all the advocates of the Bill were unanimous and agreed among themselves, then even as a matter of common courtesy it might be said, let there be an inquiry; but it appeared they differed on the most important points. The hon. Baronet proposed that in the hosiery manufacture no person who was not a manufacturer within the meaning of this Bill should be permitted to employ any workman. It was to be presumed that what the hon. Baronet meant was, that as the middlemen intervening between the master and the workman must be paid, if their profit could be saved, the money would go into the pockets of the workmen. Then, if a master workman was not to be considered a manufacturer within the meaning of this Bill, he would not he allowed to employ his own children or any journeyman in his own dwelling; but each and every workman must have a particular contract with the master manufacturer. Why, the object of this Bill was to raise the wages of labour. [Sir H. HALFORD: Not so.] If not, what is the object of it? [Sir H. HALFORD: I say, that the wages are unfairly and unnaturally lowered.] Then the hon. Baronet must say what natural wages are. But the hon. Baronet proposed that this unnatural depression should not take place in wages by abolishing the middlemen, and he had not shown that 265 when this was done the workman would get the saving. How did he show that if there were to he a saving—which he (Mr. M. Gibson) denied there would—the master would not benefit solely by it. But he believed the fact to be, that there was no other practicable mode of carrying on the framework knitting than by these middlemen. Did the hon. Baronet propose that each workman was to go to the residence of the master and make a direct contract with him? Or did he propose that a servant should travel about among the knitters, and make distinct and separate contracts with each? If so, that person, whosoever he was, must be paid; and how was it shown that his salary would not fall as heavily as the profit of the middleman? But why not extend the abolition of middlemen to other things besides framework knitting? Why not to the tailors of London, for example? They did not make a contract with each of their journeymen, hut gave out work to certain persons, who in turn divided it among others. Then take the case of the landed interest: would it be said that it was improper there should be a tenant between the landlord and the labourer? Or take the ease of the railways. Were they not all conducted on the plan of contract and sub-contract, which was found to be the most practical and economical. Would it he said that the directors were to make separate contracts with every man who excavated the earth on the line? He must give his decided opposition to the attempt of the hon. Baronet to abolish these middlemen. But were the Bill to pass, would the object be accomplished? Was anything more certain than that the rule would be evaded. The frames would be made over by way of sale, or some step of the kind would be taken to make the middlemen master manufacturers within the meaning of the Act, and the whole scheme of the hon. Baronet would be destroyed. He also objected as decidedly to the attempt to abolish the rents of frames. It appeared monstrous that when persons had invested a small capital in the purchase of these machines, the Legislature should turn round, and render them comparatively valueless, by enacting that no one should pay rent for the use of them. Let the principle then be carried out to other descriptions of property— to land or houses. He could conceive no more legitimate investment of capital than in a machine. Would the House, for example, 266 object to rent being paid for the use of a steam-engine? And, with respect to the labouring classes themselves, could anything be more unjust than to tell them that, because they were unable to find capital for the purchase of a machine, they should not be allowed to hire one from those who had? Why, a greater injustice to the working classes had never been proposed in that House. And, in this respect also the provision of the Bill would be very easily evaded. The hon. Baronet contended that the profit of the capital invested in these machines should not come out of the labourers' wages; but he was then hound to show some means by which the price of the article could be raised so that it should fall upon the consumer. He contended that the Bill would not render the net amount of wages received by the working people any higher than it now was. It appeared to him that this Bill would interfere improperly with the rights of property, establish most objectionable principles, and be productive of the greatest mischief, without in the remotest manner effecting the objects its advocates had in view. Their motives were, no doubt, pure and excellent; they desired to benefit the working people, and no one desired more to see a change for their advantage than he did. But feeling confident that no benefit would result to them from the legislation proposed, he felt it his duty to vote against the second reading of this Bill.
§ MR. PACKE
controverted the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman, that Mr. Muggeridge's report was not in harmony with the provision of this Bill; and he quoted that gentleman's report to show that he had represented the frame rents as one of the evils most universally complained of, and that the evidence was perfectly conclusive on that point. That statement had been supported by a witness who had nothing to do with the frames, but who was materially interested in the affairs of the district, namely, the chairman of the Leicester board of guardians. He did not believe that in any part of the kingdom, except the midland counties, so intolerable a system prevailed as this to which the poor framework knitters were subject. As to the comparison between these frame rents and other descriptions of property, it did not hold good. He represented an agricultural as well as manufacturing population, where the wages in the one case were 12s. or 14s. a week, and in the other 267 3s. 6d. and 4s. 6d.; and he should like to know what would be the effect if farmers were to make a deduction from wages on account of the use of ploughs and harrows and other implements. He had offered to assist the poor workpeople in a way to enable them to get frames of their own; but they had told him that they should be ruined, for if they had their own frames they would be unable to obtain employment, and that they were bound down under the present system. He contended that such a system was intolerable tyranny; and so long as he had a seat in that House he would never allow a year to pass without endeavouring to abolish it. The hon. Member for Leicester had said there was nothing for those framework knitters but to trust to Providence and to exercise economy and forethought; but he would like to know what economy could be exercised on 4s. a week. He did not seek to interfere with the rate of wages; but it was the mode and manner in which this system was carried on that he complained of. It was altogether so gross that he never would cease his exertions until he saw the condition of these poor people bettered. He should give his cordial support to the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. FORSTER, whilst he gave the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Halford) credit for the benevolence of his motives in introducing this Bill, felt compelled to express his surprise that any hon. Member of that House should have ventured to propound such a measure as this. He was surprised that such a Bill should he brought into the House at all, and thought every syllable in it was perfectly ridiculous and absurd.
§ SIR JOHN EASTHOPE
observed, that it would probably be in the recollection of the House, that when the Bill now under consideration was debated on a former occasion, he expressed it as his opinion that the measure in the shape in which it was then presented was adapted to do harm rather than good—that in fact it was calculated to produce evils more serious than those which it was designed to remedy. Prom that opinion he was not now about to deviate; but he wished it to be understood that in voting, as it was his intention to vote, in favour of the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Leicestershire, he did not mean to identify himself with many of the provisions of the Bill. It now came before the House in a shape which rendered it necessary—as the hon. Baronet himself admitted—that it 268 should be referred to a Committee up stairs, in order that its provisions might be compared with the statements contained in the Commissioners' report, and that it might be ascertained whether it were possible to model it in such a manner as to render it instrumental in affording relief to that unhappy class of persons whose sufferings it was designed to mitigate. If it had been presented to the House as a measure of legislation, to be carried out in strict conformity with its provisions, he would most unquestionably repudiate and refuse it; but it was not so offered. He was asked to go up stairs and deliberate whether anything could be done by the Legislature to alleviate the sufferings and ameliorate the condition of from fifty to sixty thousand starving people. He was invited to do so on the evidence of a Commission appointed by Her Majesty to inquire into the grievances of these poor people, and to suggest a remedy—a Commission the duties of which had been performed in a spirit of patient and deliberate inquiry which had never been exceeded. The Commissioner who presided at that investigation stated plainly and unequivocally that some new regulations to govern the operations of these artisans were imperatively demanded, and that their introduction would be most salutary; and the witnesses who were examined before the Commissioner—people mixed up with the trade, and whose own personal interests were vitally involved—stated, in terms the most unreserved, their deep conviction, that the present system of carrying on business—that by moans of middlemen— was the bane and curse of the trade, and that its tendency was to render the idea of being engaged in it excessively distasteful to men of humane and honourable feeling. He would not trespass on the attention of the House by reading any passages from the evidence adduced before the Commissioners; suffice it to say, that the report most distinctly and emphatically declared that some regulations were essentially necessary, and that their introduction would be beneficial and salutary for these poor artisans. This declaration was concurred in by the masters themselves; some of the oldest, wealthiest, and worthiest of whom united in representing that the present system of frame rents and middlemen was the bane and curse of the trade. With unquestionable evidence of these facts before him, how could he say that he was not prepared to go into an inquiry? Here 269 was a population pursuing their miserable avocation with a degree of patience and suffering which was above all praise—relieved from the curse of Chartism, and refraining from any of those political agitations which would be to them misfortunes and disasters rather than alleviations of their sorrow; hut tranquilly pursuing their calling, not only on days of labour, but during nights which ought to be devoted to repose—enduring not only fatigue and anguish, but even pinching hunger. And was it to be said that under these afflicting circumstances the House of Commons was to refuse to engage in an inquiry having for its object the discovery of some measures whereby such an amount of human suffering might be mitigated? With a report before him, spreading over more than a thousand pages, and containing an assertion continually repeated, and in no one instance called in question, that the present regulations were not correct or well administered, was he to refuse to go into Committee for the purpose of determining whether it might not be possible so to change the Bill now under consideration as to render it productive of happy results to those poor people? If he were to yield to the argument that the principle of the Bill was objectionable as involving the principle of interference with trade, he would be at a loss to understand on what plea the abolition by that House of the truck system was to be defended. No one ever had the courage to declare that interference with that most objectionable system was unjustifiable, on the ground of its being inexpedient that the Legislature should attempt to meddle with the operations of trade; and why should the argument be now used to the prejudice of a proposal so excellent, as far as intention was concerned, as the present. The fact was, that interference upon interference had been attempted; and in the artificial state of the social relations in this great manufacturing country it was absurd to maintain that no such interferences were necessary, or had been called for. And yet, if the principles of his right hon. Friend the Vice-President of the Board of Trade were to be received as the guide of conduct in that House, no interference with the operations of trade, however strongly it might be recommended by considerations of patriotism and humanity, could be tolerated or permitted. With regard to the provisions of the Bill in the shape in which it was now presented to the House, he begged to have it under- 270 stood that he was not by any means in favour of them. He would not hesitate to say that in its present shape he believed it to be a crude and ill-digested piece of legislation. But then it should be remembered that the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Leicestershire was, not that it should receive the sanction of the House in its present form, but that it should be referred to a Select Committee to inquire whether there could be found in the Bill any thing out of which could be constructed a measure, the effect of which might be to mitigate the sufferings of those poor people, and also to maintain that spirit of integrity and fair dealing by which trade should be characterized. That was his object, his sole object, and having that object in view, he was fully prepared to vote for going to a Select Committee; for the sake of that object he was prepared to encounter all the opprobrium of supporting a measure which, as it now stood, was, he was willing to admit, crude and ill adapted to accomplish its professed end. He entirely disclaimed the desire of courting election favour or winning a cheer at the hustings by the words which he was now uttering. He should never again require the aid of either; but he acted under a feeling of the deepest conviction, that if he were to take a different course from that which he was pursuing, he would not discharge his duty as an honest man. Prom men of all parties, from clergymen of every denomination, Catholic, Protestant, and of the Established Church, he had received accounts which concurred in representing that the sufferings of those poor people could not he described—nay more, that they could scarcely be conceived. They appealed to that House for relief. They complained of the hard-heartedness of the middlemen, and of the carelessness of the manufacturers. They said amongst themselves, "Come, let us see what Parliament will do for us;" but if Parliament were to turn a deaf ear to their application, and refuse to devote any portion of its time to the task of inquiring what remedy could he devised for that afflicting state of things, which the report of the Commissioner and the evidence of the witnesses examined before him proved to exist, the manifest inference would be, that it was useless for the injured and aggrieved to appeal to that House for redress. Surely it was not, because the Bill now under consideration was in its present form ill calculated to secure the object which its promoters had in view, 271 that the House should refuse to do anything whatever towards the furtherance of that object, or decline to inquire whether the measure might not be so modelled and adapted as to remedy an evil which all admitted, and which all professed to lament.
§ COLONEL ROLLESTON
admitted the necessities of the people whom it was proposed by this Bill to relieve, and thought it would be an act of gross injustice on the part of that House, after their attention had been called to the subject, to refuse going into a Committee to ascertain how the sufferings of those artisans might be mitigated. The object of the Bill was to secure to the poor man a fair day's wages for a fair day's work.
§ SIR J. C. HOBHOUSE
was decidedly averse to going into Committee on the Bill. He opposed the proposition, because of his regard for the very people whom it was the desire of the promoters of the measure to benefit; for by going into Committee on it, the House would be only holding out hopes to those persons that the Bill would meet the urgencies of their case, and raise the wages, and change the condition of many thousand unhappy persons whose great misfortune it was that they had embarked their only capital—their industry—in a trade which was not remunerative. The only argument he had heard from the advocates of the Bill during the present debate was, that it was a remarkably bad one, and that it was therefore expedient that they should go into Committee, and endeavour to amend it. It was the first time he had ever heard of the second reading of a Bill being advocated solely and exclusively in consideration of its demerits. It was the first time he had ever seen hon. Members coming down with a Bill in their hands, and addressing the House somewhat after this fashion:— "This is a peculiarly bad Bill, let us go into Committee and try to mend it." The hon. Baronet the Member for Leicester had admitted that it was so crude a piece of legislation that he could not think of supporting it in its present shape; and the hon. Member for Finsbury confessed that he had a very bad opinion of the two principal clauses of the Bill, which, in fact, were the Bill itself. It was the very first time that he (Sir J. Hobhouse) ever knew of an important measure being so introduced and so supported. The master manufacturers of Nottingham were totally opposed to the Bill; and he was not surprised at their hostility, for indeed it was fraught 272 with the most injurious consequences. Of the 40,000 frames in the midland counties, 10,000 were independent frames, and these would not be worth the wood they were made of if the present Bill were to become law. They would be entirely confiscated. It was a Bill which would bring destruction on the middlemen, without doing any good to the operatives themselves; nay, it would prove positively injurious to the operatives, for the income of the master manufacturers would be injured by it, and they would seek to indemnify themselves by reducing yet more the wages of those in their employment. He was sure that the Commissioner who had inquired into their condition (Mr. Muggeridge) would not approve of such a Bill. He should like to have that gentleman at the bar, that he might just ask him the question. If he thought that going into Committee would produce any even the smallest measure of relief to the unhappy class of persons whom the hon. Member for South Leicestershire wished to benefit, he would of course at once consent to the proposal. What Member of the House was there that would not? The Members of that House had never been accused of being indifferent to the claims of humanity, nor of being unwilling to devote their time to any class in the community whose grievances they could redress; but the fact was, that there was not a single clause of the present Bill which would be operative of good, or productive of the least relief to any class whatsoever. It was on those grounds he felt himself called upon to offer his decided opposition to a measure which would be injurious to many and beneficial to none.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
disapproved of many of the details of the Bill, but did not think it inconsistent to vote for the second reading, in order that those details might be amended in Committee. He did not know how otherwise they could be amended than by bringing them under the consideration of a Committee up stairs. He denied that the object of the Bill was to raise and regulate wages. It was to protect the honest earnings of an industrious class of persons, of which earnings they were now robbed by the invasion of the existing law. The right hon. Baronet who had last addressed the House had protested against any interference on the part of the Legislature; but it was now too late to hold such language. They had already admitted the principle of interference in the case of the 273 Ten Hours Bill, and on other occasions, and they could not rescind it now. All admitted that something ought to he done. There were 60,000 persons interested in the passing of the Bill. The master manufacturers might, had they been so disposed, have procured the introduction of a Bill for the protection of the frame-workers; hut they had neglected to do so, and the poor operatives had got some hon. Members to commiserate their unhappy condition, and to espouse their cause in that House. He was free to admit that the Bill interfered in some cases with property in a manner not at all justifiable. He did not think it a warrantable interference that there should be an inspection of the manufacturers' hooks, or that the hiring of frames should be prohibited; but that was no reason why an effort should not be made up stairs to remedy the defects of the Bill, and to render it really adaptable to the purpose it was designed to effect. The grievances under the present system were really dreadful; the workmen were actually robbed by it. An argument in its favour was that there were 1,700 independent frames. But to whom did they belong? To butchers, bakers, and grocers; and he would explain to the House how the system was worked at Sutton in Ashfield. The bagman hired the frame himself for sixpence a week from the owner, who was a butcher, a baker, or a provision dealer, as the case might be, and not only hired it out to the unfortunate operative at an enormous profit, but took care to make a bargain with him that he should purchase his meat, bread, or provisions, from the man who was the proprietor of the frame. The hardship of this arrangement to the operative was very cruel. He knew a case where an operative's wages for twelve weeks amounted to 7l. 16.s 6d. He hired a frame from the bagman, who compelled him to buy his bread at a certain shop, and when the operative came to settle with the bagman, the latter said, "It is quite true I owe you 7l. 16s. 6d., but 4l. 3s. 9d. is stopped for bread, and 11. 15s. 6d. for the rent of the frame, making in all for the two items of frame rent and bread, 51. 19s. 3d." The balance was all the poor operative got; and it appeared that he had to pay for his bread 25 per cent more than he could have bought it for elsewhere. As an evidence of the enormous profits which were made by hiring out frames, he might mention an instance where a man purchased the machine origi- 274 nally for 151. He lent it out for a year at the rate of 2s. 6d. a week, on the calculation that there were fifty weeks and a half in the year, and so realized 6l. 6s. 3d. in a single year; but before this it had been worked by one man for ten years, so that, on the whole, he had realized, in a round sum, about 631., the only deduction being 11. 10s. on account of repairs. After giving several cases of a similar nature, the hon. Gentleman proceeded to say that he was somewhat surprised at the nature of some remedies which had been proposed for the relief of the framework knitters. The only remedy that could be suggested by some hon. Members was, that those poor creatures should not marry. He supposed they were to be handed over to the tender mercies of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Spooner), whoso Bill was set down for second reading to-day. Mr. Muggeridge had said, over and over again, that he did not know a more oppressed set of people; but that was no reason why they should not marry. Another hon. Gentleman said, they ought to give up this trade, and should not teach it to their children; but while such language as this was held, the frame proprietors were going into the agricultural districts and obtaining children for the purpose of teaching them to work their frames. There were 500 persons in the Hinckley union workhouse who were framework knitters; and in the midland counties, owing to the destitution of this class, the Poor Law could not be made to work. He implored of hon. Members not to treat with neglect the claims of a class of persons whose sufferings it was impossible to witness without emotion; at least, the House ought not to add insult to injury by refusing even to allow the Bill to be referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, this Bill consisted in reality of one provision, that contained in the 4th Clause; and it was of importance to understand what was the mischief of which the hon. Gentleman complained, and what was the object he hoped to attain by that provision. He said, here were parties belonging to a particular trade who did not get good wages, and his object was to create for these people good wages. Now, to get at this result, the effect of the Bill would be to limit the number of persons who should employ capital in the formation and supply of frames, so that the framework knitters would have a smaller number of persons to take work from, and would thus be enabled to drive with them a harder bar- 275 gain than they could now do. After illustrating by an example the operations of this principle, which was one, he observed, wholly destructive of free competition in trade, the hon. Member quoted the clause which prohibited the hiring or letting of frames. This clause was a direct injustice; and yet it was, in reality, the whole Bill. It was, in fact, a Bill to regulate the price of labour as employed in the manufacture of hosiery; and the measure was not a whit the more to be defended because founded on what some deemed principles of humanity. They might depend upon it they would be beaten at every turn when they attempted to interfere with the ordinary processes of labour and demand. The labourer came into the market with his labour as a commodity; and the man who employed him agreed to give him so much money for that commodity, and no interference of theirs could, or ought to, disturb that arrangement. The hon. Baronet the Member for Leicester (Sir J. Easthope) had declared himself in favour of inquiry, but had omitted to state into what he wished to inquire. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) was anxious that the poor man, as he termed it, should not be robbed—this was a very taking word — but precisely the same robbery, so to call it, was committed in every case where one man brought labour and another capital into the field. A farmer employed his skill and labour upon the land, and paid rent to his landlord; but this was a mere matter of contract between the parties, and no robbery. He denied that if this Bill were thrown out, it could be considered a contemptuous rejection; and, do what it might, Parliament could not regulate wages, any more than it could regulate rents or mercantile profits. All it could accomplish was, to take care that every man had a fair market for his commodity, whether labour or anything else; and to attempt to do more was to do harm. If by some direful accident this Bill should pass, it would be the utter ruin of the poor persons who at this moment obtained only an inadequate remuneration. In the case of the handloom weavers, interference had been quite as futile; and if this Bill became law, the effect would be to cause the immediate invention of some machine that would throw all the hands now employed entirely out of work. It was dictated only by mistaken humanity. Because misery might be seen in the streets, was it fit to rush into Parliament and exclaim, "Relieve this 276 people?" It was first necessary to ascertain whether they could be relieved. No endeavour had yet been successful to regulate the rate of wages, or to raise them in any other way than by fair competition; to coerce was to diminish the profits of capitalists, and thereby to reduce the wages of labour; and if Parliament should ever commence such a rash and headlong career, the sooner it was stopped the better, and the fewer would be the victims of morbid and mistaken philanthopy.
§ SIR J. EASTHOPE
wished to make only a single remark, strictly in explanation. The hon. and learned Member for Bath had complained that he had not stated into what he was desirous of inquiring. He had stated [holding up the huge report in his hands] that he was anxious that the House, through the medium of a Committee, should ascertain whether anything, and what, could be done for the relief of the suffering people, in accordance with that report, and the evidence on which it was based.
§ MR. BANKES
said, the object of the supporters of the Bill was to inquire into, with a view of relieving, the wants and sufferings of the working classes. He might be told that they would not be successful in their inquiry; but it was sufficient if they made an attempt. It was all very well for the hon. and learned Member for Bath to say the inquiry was useless, because, if a successful result was arrived at he would still resist legislation, as contrary to his principles. The House, however, had not adhered to those principles of political economy; and the hon. Member for Finsbury, not denying the truth of those principles, maintained that there were exceptions from the general rule, and that this was one of them. He (Mr. Bankes) believed that this was one of those cases in which legislative interference would be beneficial, by remedying a grievance the existence of which no man denied. In many cases that House had deviated from the principles of political economy; and the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Hobhouse), in his strong speech in opposition to the measure, had, in not a few instances, afforded arguments in favour of the course the hon. Member for Finsbury had recommended. The hon. and learned Member for Bath had not justly criticised the speech of the hon. Member for Finsbury, who had anticipated many of the objections raised by the hon. and learned Member, and had not fallen 277 into any of the fallacies attributed to him; for he had expressly stated that his object was not to interfere with bonâ fide owners of frames, but with persons pretending to be owners—butchers, bakers, and publicans, who got workmen into their power, and extorted an unreasonable rent for the frames, and exorbitant prices for the provisions they furnished. The object of the Bill was to prohibit this practice. According to the hon. and learned Member for Bath, there ought to be no law against the truck system, and the law passed had been ineffectual; but he (Mr. Bankes) believed that law had not been without effect; some effect, he trusted, had been produced in declaring the practice illegal; and the present Bill was of the nature of a declaratory enactment against a practice which was a part of the truck system, and which he considered immoral as well as illegal. This was the view he took of the measure; and even if they should not succeed in showing that the Bill was worthy of adoption by the House, still he thought the time occupied in inquiry would not be lost.
§ MR. BROTHERTON
was unwilling to give a silent vote, lest it should be thought he concurred in the opinion expressed by some hon. Members that the House was precluded from legislating on such subjects. He thought that Parliament was bound to legislate in all cases where there was a chance that legislation would be useful. He had looked at the Bill with an anxious desire to support it; but he apprehended that it would be easier to frame a new Bill than to amend the old one. Supposing there were 40,000 frames, he did not think that the House would consent to such a confiscation of property as would be effected by this Bill, and which, if adopted, would be most injurious, not merely to the manufacturers, but to the workmen. He objected to it, because he saw that it would be injurious to both; and from communications with manufacturers he found that to one establishment the loss would not be less than 1,000l. a year. To pass it, would be discourage persons of industrious habits; and men in future would have no inducement to make themselves owners of three or four frames, at which they might profitably employ their children in the manufacture of gloves and stockings. The number of persons thus engaged was greater than many might suppose. In the town of Belper there might be only 3,000 stockingers; but 10,000 people in the neighbourhood, at a greater or less dis- 278 tance, were so engaged. If the House laid it down as a principle that no frame should be let out, only carry it a step further, and what farmer would be able to accommodate his poorer neighbour engaged in the same pursuit with a thrashing machine? He feared that if the Committee were appointed, the effect would rather be to produce delusion than any real benefit, and it could hardly be terminated in the present Session.
§ MR. FERRAND
observed, that the working people could scarcely be worse off under any system than under the present, and by this Bill they appealed to the House for redress. He wished to be informed what was the use of Parliament if not to redress the grievances of the people? If universal suffrage had been established, the majority of the House must have voted in favour of this Bill; and the hon. Baronet the Member for Leicester, who in the handsomest manner had advocated the principle of this Bill, well knew that in so doing he was speaking the sentiments of the working men of the borough he represented. The other hon. Member for Leicester was aware that if the population were polled, seven out of every ten would be in favour of the measure. Why did the right hon. Member for Nottingham resist it, but because by so doing he was complying with the wishes of the manufacturers, who were sensible that their tyranny was so oppressive that it could not stand investigation.
§ MR. M. PHILIPS
, had for the last fifteen years been in communication with the working classes in the manufacturing districts, and had often conferred with them on matters concerning their condition; but he had never attempted to deceive them by inducing them to believe that the Legislature had the power of curing the evils of which they from time to time complained. He remembered the course pursued in regard to the handloom weavers. He was on the Committee to inquire into their condition; much time was devoted to that inquiry, but it resulted in the conviction that the matters of complaint were beyond legislative remedy. Experience having at length convinced him that all legislation upon such subjects must prove a failure he was not prepared to promote the present measure. Besides, it contained enactments which would, in his judgment, be destructive of the best interests of the working classes. He could not sanction an Act which said that no individual should be the owner of a frame who was not a 279 manufacturer and capable of paying wages. He had not had any communication either with the masters or the workmen on the subject of the present Bill; he regretted he had not; because he should have been happy to have a conference with both parties. Acting on his conviction, that the Bill was of a mischievous character, he could not take any other course on this occasion than to vote against its second reading.
§ SIR H. HALFORD
replied, and remarked upon the undisputed admission that such a degree of distress and misery prevailed among the weavers as was hardly consistent with the prolongation of life. This condition had now lasted for thirty years; and if the House did not step in to remedy it, there was every reason to fear that it would he interminable. It was too late for the right hon. Member for Nottingham to argue that inquiry would excite vain hopes, because those hopes had been excited when the Commission was appointed. The question, then, was, whether the House by refusing inquiry was to disappoint those hopes. He had been accused of recommending hasty and crude legislation; but the matter ought not to have been in his hands at all, but in those of the Government. He had, however, been induced to take up the subject, because he lived among the people, and could not but be a witness of their sufferings; he felt it his duty to do what he could to relieve them, and to place them in such a state as to prevent the recurrence of their miseries. He did not require that the Bill should be passed without the most deliberate consideration: if it were crude, he was anxious that it should be matured by the Committee.
§ The House divided on the question that the word "now" stand part of the Question:—Ayes 58; Noes 77: Majority 19.
|List of the AYES.|
|Bankes, G.||Duncombe, hon. O.|
|Bennet, P.||Du Pre, C. G.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Easthope, Sir J.|
|Beresford, Major||Egerton, W. T.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Egerton, Sir P.|
|Bodkin, W. H.||Farnham, E. B.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Fielden, J.|
|Borthwick, P.||Ferrand, W. B.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Floyer, J.|
|Buck, L. W.||Forbes, W.|
|Clive, Visct.||Frewen, C H.|
|Cole, hon. H. A.||Fuller, A. E.|
|Colville, C. R.||Gaskell, J. M.|
|D'Eyncourt, rt. hon. C.||Gladstone, Capt.|
|Douglas, J. D. S.||Granby, Marq. of|
|Duncombe, T.||Harris, hon. Capt.|
|Hildyard, T. B. T.||Sheppard, T.|
|Hughes, W. B.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Manners, Lord C. S.||Spooner, R.|
|Manners, Lord J.||Stanley, E.|
|Miles, W.||Stansfleld, W. R. C.|
|Morris, D.||Tollemache, J.|
|Newdegate, C. N.||Trollope, Sir J.|
|Newport, Visct.||Verner, Sir W.|
|O'Brien, A. S.||Vyse, H.|
|O'Brien, J.||Waddington, H. S.|
|Palmer, G.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Round, C. G.||Halford, Sir H.|
|Seymer, H. K.||Packe, C. W.|
|List of theNOES.|
|Adderley, C. B.||Macaulay, rt. hon. T. B.|
|Bannerman, A.||M'Carthy, A.|
|Barrington, Visct.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Bentinck, Lord H.||Monahan, J. H.|
|Berkeley, hon. C.||Morpeth, Visct.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.|
|Brotherton, J.||Ogle, S. C. H.|
|Brown, W.||Pakington, Sir J.|
|Buller, C.||Parker, J.|
|Burke, T. J.||Philips, G. R.|
|Byng, rt. hon. G. S.||Philips, M.|
|Carew, W. H. P.||Pinney, W.|
|Collett, J.||Powlett, Lord W.|
|Corbally, M. E.||Price, Sir R.|
|Craig, W. G.||Ricardo, J. L.|
|Dalrymple, Capt.||Rice, E. R.|
|Dennistoun, J.||Rich, H.|
|Divett, E.||Roebuck, J. A.|
|Dodd, G.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Duncan, Visct.||Scrope, G. P.|
|Duncan, G.||Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Shelburne, Earl of|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Somerville, Sir W. M.|
|Escott, B.||Stanton, W. H.|
|Esmonde, Sir T.||Strutt, rt. hon. E.|
|Evans, W.||Thornely, T.|
|Forster, M.||Trelawny, J. S.|
|Gibson, rt. hon. T. M.||Tufnell, H.|
|Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.||Turner, E.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Walker, R.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||Ward, H. G.|
|Hanmer, Sir J.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Hawes, B.||Winnington, Sir T. E.|
|Heneage, G. H. W.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Hill, Lord M.||Wood, Col. T.|
|Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.||Wyse, T.|
|Hume, J.||Yorke, H. R.|
|James, Sir W. C.||TELLERS.|
|Labouchere, rt. hon. H.||Ellis, W.|
|Lincoln, Earl of||Gisborne, T.|
§ Second reading put off for six months.
§ [SEDUCTION AND PROSTITUTION.—The second reading of this Bill was discussed, while strangers were excluded from the House. After a Motion to read it a second time that day six months had been made and withdrawn, the Bill was read a second time and referred to a Select Committee.]
§ House adjourned at Six o'clock.