HC Deb 17 July 1849 vol 107 cc481-92

was aware what he should have to encounter in endeavouring to attract the attention of the House to the Motion he was about to propose. Accustomed as the House was to deal with questions affecting large classes of the community—not merely the inhabitants of this country, but those of the remotest parts of the globe—it was scarcely to be expected that they would condescend to give their attention to a measure which involved the interest of a small section only of the community. He assured the House he had no motive in bringing forward this Motion except that of elevating the position of a class of working men who toiled more continuously than almost any other class of persons in the British community. There were no less than 10,000 persons in this metropolis employed in preparing the staff of life, who were looking with anxiety to the result of this Motion. It was a question which involved their comfort, their happiness, their moral progress—aye, and the very duration of life itself. The noble Lord reminded the House that last year he moved for a Committee on this subject, but it was refused. He regretted that refusal, because if a Committee had been appointed, the truth of the allegations of the petitioners might have been ascertained. He was, however, not discouraged. He recollected that on the former occasion his right hon. Friend the Homo Secretary told him that he was out of court in moving for a Committee, because there was nothing more to inquire about, inasmuch as Dr. Guy had investigated the whole matter. His right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford had stated that he would not be unwilling to consider a legislative remedy on the subject; and he believed that the general impression was that he, last Session, made out a primâ facie in favour of some enactment to relieve the evils of which he now complained. The Bill he now wished to introduce was precisely the same as that of last year. The principle and the details were now contained in one single clause. He trusted the House would pronounce their opinion upon it at once, and not permit it to be introduced, and then oppose it. After the statement he had made last Session, he hoped he should be spared the necessity of again repeating the grievances under which the journeymen bakers laboured. Their hours of work were usually from 11 o'clock at night till 6 or 7 o'clock the following evening, during which they could get no rest. These hours were increased on Fridays and Saturdays; and they generally worked five or six hours on the Sunday. The place, too, in which the journeyman worked in London was very little better than a cellar; he was exposed to every vicissitude of heat and cold. While 60 hours of work in the week were the average in other employments, 100 hours were the average of the journeyman baker's labour during the week. He was not able to go to any place of religious worship, and the House could not be surprised to hear that the result of this system was the moral and physical degradation of the individual—a recourse to stimulants, and an early decay of the vital energies. No inconvenience would result to the public from a relaxation of the hours of labour on the part of the journeyman bakers. The only difference would be that the batches of bread would be drawn at a later hour in the day, and, instead of hot loaves being delivered, they would come to the houses of the customers cold. It was a saying that one half of the people sat up all night to prepare poison for the other half in the morning. If the House should pass the Bill he proposed, the hot-bread poison would at least be put an end to. A strong argument in favour of this measure was the fact that no less than two-thirds of the master bakers in London were favourable to it. No less than 2,500 had petitioned for the measure, and he believed not one had petitioned against it. The objections generally urged against any measure of this description were that there was some immutable principle in political economy against all interference between master and man, and that if any exception were to be made in favour of any one particular trade, it must ultimately be made in reference to all trades. But these objections were much too late; for Parliament had already interfered in many instances between the employers and the employed. He might mention the Coalwhippers Act, the Mines and Collieries Act, and the Ten Hours Factory Protection Act. Thus it was clear that the House had shown that the principle of leaving trade uninterfered with, might be, under certain circumstances, most justifiably departed from. The hon. Member for the West Riding had observed that the Ten Hours Act was passed for children, and that the present Motion was therefore the first attempt to legislate upon the subject in reference to adult labour; but that the Ten Hours Bill did interfere with the hours of labour of adults, was, he believed, a notorious fact. This, therefore, was no new attempt. His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade would perhaps say, it might be true that the bakers suffered very much from the causes he had mentioned, but that the fustian-cutters and some other trades suffered quite as much as they did. He (Lord R. Grosvenor) might be permitted to observe, that the case of those other trades was not then before the House, and that it was rather hard to oppose a case that was before the House by referring to other cases that were not before it. But he was quite willing to join issue with his right hon. Friend upon that subject, and to say, that supposing this Bill passed, and that in consequence of it various other trades come forward asking for legislative interference, if they succeeded in establishing a case of grievance, and proposed an effectual remedy, he saw no reason why the House should not sanction it. If the cases should be found so numerous as to render it impossible for the House to deal with them singly, they could be referred to a Select Committee for investigation, in order to see if the same principle could not be applied to them all. He recollected that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department suggested last year as a remedy for the evil, that the bakers should be put under the inspection of the Sanitary Commission. Now, certainly, if in the Sanitary Bill for the metropolis which had been so long promised, but which seemed to demand the Cæsarean operation to bring it forth, a clause could be inserted, placing bakehouses under such inspection, he should be very glad; but that would go a very little way towards a complete remedy. He would appeal to that party of which the hon. Member for Montrose was so distinguished a leader, and which was so anxious for an extension of the suffrage, not to be contented with agitating for that alone, but to exert themselves in furthering such measures as would qualify the working classes for the exercise of the franchise, for he was convinced, that the more they succeeded in elevating the character of our working men, the more would they predispose the Legislature and the country to look with favour upon the extension of the franchise which they desired. From the best consideration which he had been able to give this subject, he was perfectly convinced that the more they tended to reduce the hours of labour within reasonable limits, the more would they tend to destroy, not that wholesome competition which was the secret of our industrial triumphs, but that unwholesome competition which perilled the lives and happiness of mankind by bringing all down to the same level of degradation and ruin. How stood the case with respect to this unfortunate class whose cause he pleaded? They came as youths, principally from Scotland, to pass through the fire of Moloch in this metropolis, about the age of fifteen or sixteen. After that period they had no time to give to mental improvement, religious instruction, rational recreation, or attendance on public worship; and if they did not all entirely "live without God in the world" it was no fault of the system to which they were sacrificed. Knowing what he did of the evils of that system, he, for one, declined to acquiesce in them without at least trying to provide a remedy for them. That remedy he now proposed by the Bill which he asked the leave of the House to introduce. He begged the House to agree to that Motion, on account of the sufferings of the unfortunate men whose case he had undertaken to lay before them. He implored them not to reject it on account of his feeble advocacy of their cause. He entreated them not to resist the growing demands on this subject, by applying a principle which the Legislature had refused to adopt in other cases, or by indulging fears which experience had shown to have no existence. He trusted that they would meet the question fairly and frankly, and say at once whether they thought the remedy he proposed was or was not a satisfactory remedy for the evil complained of; and if they rejected it, he hoped they would be able to justify themselves for prolonging a system which they all declared to be grievous and deplorable.

Motion made, and question put, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit labour in Bakehouses during certain hours of the night."


said, he was sure it was quite unnecessary for his noble Friend to have expressed any apprehen- sion lest the cause he had undertaken to plead should suffer anything from the manner in which he had brought it under the consideration of the House. On the contrary, he was certain that every one who knew him would admit that the manner in which he brought the claims of the working classes before the House, was always such as to recommend them to their most favourable consideration. His noble Friend had stated, that if the House objected to the principle of the Bill, he hoped they would at once clearly express their opinion to that effect, and refuse to allow the Bill to be brought in, rather than defer that decision to a later stage of the Bill. He agreed with his noble Friend in the propriety of that course; and it was because he felt himself compelled, reluctantly but decidedly, to express an opinion contrary to the principle of the Bill, that he should also feel it to be his duty at once to give his vote against the introduction of the Bill. He entreated the House to consider what that principle really was. It was a principle which he could not help saying, notwithstanding what had fallen from his noble Friend, was altogether novel in the legislation of this country. That principle was compulsorily to limit the hours of labour—not in factories, where large numbers of persons were congregated together, and where, consequently, a system of inspection was possible without the necessity of constant visits of Government inspectors, and the liability to information by private parties against the employers of labourers—but in dwelling-houses and workshops, where the system of minute and constant inspection that would be necessary to carry out the plan of his noble Friend, would be quite intolerable in a free country. His noble Friend, indeed, seemed to be aware that it was scarcely possible to carry out his principle to its legitimate consequences without including fustian-cutters and other trades who were at present subject to the evil of protracted hours of labour, as well as the bakers. It behoved the House, then, before they took the step now asked of them, to consider well the con-quences to which it must necessarily lead; and if they found that the system would be intolerable to the feelings of the people, that it would be impossible to work it out, that though they might employ an army of commissioners and a host of inspectors, they would never be able to control a system of labour carried on in dwelling-houses and workshops by any ma- chinery they could devise—if they found all this, then it became them to take their stand at once against the principle of the measure, and refuse to interfere upon the more statement of his noble Friend, that there would be some fancied advantage to a particular class by so doing. His noble Friend had quoted the case of the coal-whippers as analogous to that of the bakers; but he (Mr. Labouchere) denied that there was any similarity between the two cases. The coalwhippers were an organised body who worked in a limited space, and were not, like the bakers, scattered over the workshops of the country. And besides, there was another material distinction. The Coalwhippers Act did not interfere with the hours of labour or with their wages, in any way whatever. All that it did was to interfere with the manner in which they were hired and paid, and to enact that that should be done through the instrumentality of a public office, in a manner somewhat analogous to that which he ventured to recommend the other day with regard to seamen. That was quite a distinct principle from that which his noble Friend now proposed to introduce. The question before the House was, whether they were prepared to adopt the principle of restricting the hours of labour of adult persons scattered throughout the country in dwelling-houses and workshops, and to begin with bakers—because his noble Friend seemed to be aware that it was scarcely possible to stop there—and if other classes were seriously to urge their claims upon the House, after admitting that of the bakers, he did not sec how they could be resisted. The consequence would be, that by passing the Bill now asked for, the House would be involved in difficulties of which there was no practical solution. He believed that its adoption would do more harm than good, and he therefore advised the House to reject the proposition of his noble Friend, which, although he was sure it had been brought forward in a benevolent spirit, and with the best intentions, he firmly believed would confer no benefit on the classes for whom it was intended.


felt some difficulty with regard to the present Motion. Last year, when the question was before the House, he voted for inquiry into the best mode of relieving the operative bakers from their grievances. They complained justly of the very long hours of labour to which they were subjected by the present mode of carrying on their trade. He confessed having some difficulty in voting for the Bill without having further information, because the most conflicting statements were made upon the subject by parties equally respectable, equally experienced, and equally worthy of belief. If the Government held out a hope that next Session they would not object to the appointment of a Select Committee on this subject, the best course, in his opinion, would be for his noble Friend to withdraw the Bill; but he certainly could not offer this advice to his noble Friend unless the Government held out such a hope. In that case he should vote in favour of the Motion.


admitted there was great difficulty in dealing with this question; but in his opinion the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex had made out a strong primâ facie case for interference. The facts had not been denied by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. Under these circumstances he wished for further information, and he trusted the Government would not object to a Select Committee next Session.


had supported the proposition of the noble Lord last year, and his mind had no way been changed since as to the necessity of legislation on this question. The ease ought to be considered. The object of the noble Lord was merely to limit the hours of night labour; and, though no person objected more than he did to interfere between the employer and employed, yet after reading the evidence of Dr. Guy, he was convinced that interference in this case was absolutely necessary.


said, he hoped the House would allow this Bill to be read a first time. He supported the measure for many reasons: first, because of its utility. Now, upon that point he might quote the evidence of a medical gentleman (Dr. Guy), whose statement respecting the diseases to which bakers, under the present order of things, were subject, was appalling. The spittings of blood, and the pulmonary diseases which followed, were lamentable, and demanded the attention of the Legislature. It was all very well to write in the closet, and there discuss the dry principles of political economy, but when they saw a human being wasting away to a skeleton, and finally perishing, from the unhealthiness of his occupation, it was high time for the Legislature to interfere. It was this parental regard on the part of Parliament which gave the humbler classes confidence in our institutions, which made them love and revere our constitution, which held the life of the meanest and poorest subject in the same estimation as the highest. But it was said Parliament would not interfere with labour—they would not interpose between the employer and the employed. But they had broken through this rigid rule. They had interposed with respect to the factory operatives and the coalwhippers—why not interpose on behalf of the bakers? That class were very numerous in this metropolis. Why neglect them? He hoped that before this discussion closed, the House would be favoured with the opinions of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Biding of Yorkshire, who, as the organ of the Manchester school, would, he trusted, enunciate his opinions, and tell the House whether there was anything in the economical principles which he and the school to which he belonged advocated, which would tie a man down to a duration of toil which deprived him of health, and which, in the opinion of the most eminent physicians, of necessity materially abridged the natural period of his existence. If so, it was really a mockery to call them free Britons—they ought to be designated serfs or slaves; indeed, their life was more wretched and unwholesome than that of slaves, whose condition they so often deplored.


said, that if he understood the proposition, the House was asked to limit the hours of labour of a certain class of workmen in London. Now, that was an entirely new principle. The Coal Whipping Act had nothing in common with the proposed Bill—for that regulated the mode of hiring labourers, and did not restrict their hours of labour. As for the Ten Hours Bill, if there had been any attempt to restrict the hours of adult labour by means of that measure, he should have voted against it. But it would be admitted by all that the Ten Hours Bill was strictly applied to the limitation of the hours of labour of children in factories. The present proposition involved a new principle of world-wide application. He had been asked what his principle in respect to labour was; he would tell the House. He was for perfect freedom in this respect. He thought that the freedom of labour was to be identified with freedom of trade. The present was a case which might be argued on the same grounds as the corn laws. There must be perfect freedom of labour in the trade of bakers, or else the House would have the glassmakers, that useful class the night-men of London, the ironfounders, and indeed every other trade, coming forward and asking to be exempted from such hard work as they now performed. He warned the House against entering upon such a course of legislation. This proposition, in point of fact, was communism, although the noble Lord did not know it to be so. He had told the noble Lord that it was communism last year, when the noble Lord made the same proposal to the House, and he told him so now. Propositions of a precisely similar character had been put forward at Paris, in the commencement of last year. What had the result been? That in June of that year there was a horrid and bloody outbreak in Paris, which he distinctly and directly traced to the disappointment of the working classes at the non-fulfilment on the part of the socialist leaders, of the promises they had made to them. When Louis Blanc undertook that the State should become shoemakers, and tailors, and bakers, it was predicted that there would be a fearful reaction, when the fallacy became manifest, and a fearful reaction there was; so, if the State here undertook to regulate the hours and the mode and the remuneration of labour, and to provide healthful employment for the adult operative, depend upon it there will be terrible disappointment and terrible excitement when it was found out, as found out it soon would be, that the State had been taking upon itself a function which did not belong to it. The noble Lord admitted that he did not propose the principle to stop here: he admitted that he had no desire to exclude the Sheffield knifegrinder and his unwholesome occupation from a similar concession; that any trade which should make out a good case for such interference, should have interference extended to it by Parliament. The noble Lord, were his views adopted, would soon find out, to his bitter regret, how mistaken his benevolence had been. Allusion had been made, and very fairly, so far, as a question between modern freedom of trade and ancient restriction, and regulation, with reference to the old guilds; we had superseded these old guilds, happily, but let him ask, what were they when they existed? Little tyrannies, petty oligarchies, set up by a few privileged men in each particular trade, to prevent other men in the same calling from getting a livelihood. First, small bodies of men had got together in towns as a refuge from feudal oppression; by and by, as they advanced in the world, they made trade regulations for their own guidance; but still later, they extended these regulations to the exclusion of all other than themselves from the exercise of their particular trade. What was the effect of this exclusion? That the persons excluded set up their trade in places where these guilds did not exist, and the effect of this was that in previously obscure villages, the most flourishing trade had grown up, while the towns favoured with guilds had declined. Did these guilds exist in London, the Scotch bakers whom the hon. Gentleman had spoken of as coming up to exercise their trade here, would not be permitted to exercise it here at all. As to the grievance of the bakers, primâ facie, he thought there was something rather suspicious in the proposition that they would come up 400 miles from a country noted for the calculating caution of its inhabitants, to exercise a trade in London, if the trade were really so very bad in every way as it was represented to be. He objected to the proposition, however, more particularly on the ground that it was not the business or the policy of that House to meddle with the management of trade as between employer and employed. That House had enough to do, and more than enough to do, in transacting the business which really appertained to it; if it must insist upon a Ten Hours Bill at all, let it give itself a Ten Hours Bill, and set an example of more reasonable hours of work to the rest of the community. If the baker were to have a Bill, we should before long have the country labourer coming up to town for a Bill; the poor fellows who fagged away at bean threshing, for instance, were as hard worked as any body; and the wretched, draggled-tailed women who toiled at turnip hoeing, might make out a very fair case of grievance to the public, as they had made out, by the mere exhibition of their heavy labour, without any appeal at all to the hon. Gentleman opposite, who, when he was an amateur farmer, was so hurt at the sight of the weariness of his own turnip hoers, that he sent them home. He intreated the House not for a moment to encourage the idea that the labourer must look to Parliament for employment. The great principle was in every way to teach them to rely upon themselves.


said, he should not have risen, but to state the reasons why the Government could not assent to inquiry. All, however, he need do, was to remind the House of the discussion of last Session, upon the Motion for a Select Committee, and that the reasons he then urged were still in full force. Those reasons were twofold: first, that the information sought to be obtained was already before the House; and, next, that it would only encourage a vain and delusive hope, leading to inevitable disappointment, that the appointment of a Committee could lead to a legislative remedy for the evils of this class of persons. With regard to the Coalwhippers Act, he would read a few words which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, upon the argument that it was an interference for the protection of labour:— He, for one, had taken great interest in the case of the coalwhippers, and was very far from repenting the course he had pursued with respect to that measure. The House would be very much misled were it to suppose that measure constituted a precedent for interference in the present instance. He should state very shortly what were the objects of that measure. A custom had grown up between the masters of coal vessels and the publicans, in that part of the city of London where the coalwhippers exercised their vocation, by which it invariably happened that the men whoso services were necessary to discharge the coal ships were hired through the publicans. The publicans had come to be hiring agents. The consequence was the greatest demoralisation—a demoralisation which he should have said was complete, had it not been for the fact, that the men were conscious of the servitude to which they had been reduced, and were unfeignedly anxious to escape from it. The Act did nothing to regulate wages or the hours of work; it did nothing towards the inspection of labour. All that the Act did was to establish an office and a public officer to control it; and it was required, under the sanction of a penalty, that every one having a coal vessel to discharge should repair to that office for the purpose of hiring men. Even that provision was attended with subsidiary arrangements which were intended to exclude interference. Whatever might be the merits or demerits of that Act, it did not form a precedent. He agreed with his right hon. Friend that the House could not sanction the principle of this Bill, and that if it were sanctioned there would be no limit to it. He had risen, however, to caution the House against any impressions that the Government could consent to a Committee of Inquiry.


felt it necessary to go to a division, as the right hon. Gentleman had held out no hopes that any measure could be taken, or Committee ap- pointed, with the view of remedying the grievances to which the Bill related. It was well that the persons who were interested in the question should see what was really the mind of the House. In answer to a question which had been put, he begged to state, that the measure would not require one single inspector. In every instance in which the Legislature had deviated from what were held to be the strict principles of political economy with respect to the question of the employer and the employed, beneficial results had ensued. That circumstance would make him persevere in endeavouring to effect the object he had in view, whatever might be the result of the coming division.

The House divided:—Ayes 19; Noes 77: Majority 58.