HC Deb 03 May 1850 vol 110 cc1132-5

As I see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department in his place, perhaps he will be good enough to allow me to put the question to him of which I gave notice last night, when, owing to the lateness of the hour, it was impossible for me to introduce the question of the Ten Hours Factory Bill. I then gave notice that I would tonight ask my right hon. Friend for some explanation as to certain rumours which are current as to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government upon this subject. It has been reported that Her Majesty's Government have some intention of proposing a scheme of their own in reference to the factory question; and I think it is most desirable that the country should know as soon as possible whether that rumour be true, and that this House should as soon as possible have a general outline of the scheme to be proposed. I therefore take the liberty of asking my right hon. Friend if there is any truth in that rumour, and, if it be true, whether he is willing, in general terms, to give the House and the country an explanation of what Her Majesty's Government intend to propose?


Sir, I have, as was my duty, given much careful consideration to the question of what would be most practicable and least injurious to all classes, in any amendment of the factory laws, and at the same time consistent with the object that my noble Friend himself has in view. My noble Friend stated a few nights ago very candidly that he had experienced difficulties he had not anticipated in carrying out his own object, and that he had been obliged, after repeated attempts, to abandon the intention he originally entertained of proposing that there should be, practically, a declaratory Act, with the view of realising the intentions of the Act of 1847; and he now finds himself compelled to propose to Parliament new restrictions which were not included in the previous Act. Under these circumstances I think it is my duty, and the duty of the House, to consider what those amendments ought to be, with regard to all the important interests that must be affected by these laws. I stated, in addressing the House upon the Motion of my noble Friend for leave to bring in his Bill, that I did not think it would be possible—at all events I thought it would be extremely difficult—to carry it out successfully while the range of fifteen hours was left untouched, within which the limitation of ten hours, proscribed by law as the time for the employment of women and young persons, was to take effect. Subsequent reflection, and communication with various parties upon the subject—and when I speak of various parties, I mean parties holding different views with regard to the policy of the existing limitation—have confirmed me in that opinion. I therefore feel it my duty to lay before the House a plan, which, after full consideration, I think consistent with the spirit of the Act of 1847, though certainly not with the letter, and which, I think, will more effectually carry out the object of my noble Friend than the Bill he himself proposes, and be more acceptable to the great body of the manufacturing interests. When I say acceptable to the great body of the manufacturing interests, I am also assured, by persons in whom I place confidence, that if passed into a law it will be acceptable to the great body of the operative classes. The plan will be this—to substitute for the existing restriction on the number of hours during which women and young persons may be employed, a new limitation or definition of the hours within which they shall be employed. The House is aware that the law, as it stands at present, fixes those limits between half-past five in the morning, and half-past eight in the evening, during which those persons may be employed ten hours. What I should propose to do would be to substitute for this restriction upon the hours of labour, a limitation from six in the morning to six in the evening, within which the labour of women and young persons may be legally performed. This would apply to five days only in the week; and, with regard to Saturday, I should propose to fix the limitation between six in the morning and two in the afternoon. Perhaps this plan would be better understood, if I were to state what would be its effect. At present the class of young persons and women may be employed ten hours in the day during five days, and eight hours upon the Saturday, making altogether fifty-eight hours in the week. Under the alteration in the law—if it should be assented to by Parliament—they would be liable to be employed between six in the morning and six in the evening, which would be ten hours and a half, deducting the hour and a half for meals. They, therefore, might be employed during five days in the week fifty-two hours and a half instead of fifty, and on Saturday half an hour less than under the existing law, the day ending at two o'clock. On the one hand, although during the week this class would be employed somewhat more than under the existing law, on the other hand they will gain this advantage—they will have half an hour in the morning between half-past five and six o'clock, at their own disposal; they will have, undisturbed, the whole evening after six o'clock at their own disposal; and on Saturday, after two o'clock, the whole day at their disposal. There will be one or two other enactments that would be consequent upon this, but they are comparatively unimportant; and I do not want now to enter into any argument upon the subject. I am aware that on this question there may be objections which I have not anticipated; but I shall feel it my duty, in answer to the suggestion, to lay this proposal before the House in the form of a clause, which I shall move as an Amendment upon the clause of my noble Friend when we go into Committee. I will only say I make this proposal, believing it to be consistent with the spirit and object of the existing law. I make it in no spirit of opposition to my noble Friend's attempts to remedy existing defects; and I only trust that the question will be discussed in the calm and considerate manner which its interest deserves.


deprecated all interference between masters and workmen, and contended that mischievous results would fol- low from the course proposed to be taken. He regretted that the Government, which had seen the results of interference between capital and labour in another country, should have proved so irresolute and weak as to allow themselves to support such a proposition. It was impolitic to take from the workman the power of regulating his own labour, and he could only deprecate all such attempts in the strongest terms he could use.


, without wishing to enter into a discussion upon the subject, entirely dissented from the principles enunciated by the hon. Member for Montrose.


, in the name of his constituents and of the factory operatives throughout the kingdom, protested against the course the Government had thought fit to take, and to assure them that no such compromise as that proposed by them, no increase of the daily toil of women and children to the extent of two hours, would be accepted by the people of England. The opposition to an Act passed by large majorities of both Houses of Parliament, originating with a few interested persons, ought not to have been entertained. There could be no doubt as to the intense feeling in favour of this measure throughout the manufacturing districts, where the universal desire was that the Government should, without delay, frame a Bill that would confirm and ratify the real intention of the framers of the Act of 1847.


observed that the Bill at present stood for Wednesday; but he hoped the discussion would not come on upon that day, as in that case no time would be afforded for the consideration of the Amendments. He suggested that it should be postponed till Wednesday week.


, in reply, said that as soon as he received the printed clauses of the Government he would determine what day he would appoint.

Subject dropped.

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