§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR HENRY HALFORD
,* in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, claimed the fullest measure of the indulgence of the House, as well on account of its importance as deeply affecting the condition of large classes of workmen, as from a sense of his own deficient power to do justice to the object he had in view. For a long period of years the payment of wages to workmen and artificers, otherwise than in the current coin of the realm, had been prohibited by law. The ancient laws on this subject had been consolidated and confirmed by the Act of William IV., commonly called the Truck Act; and he believed the policy of that Act, and the principle on which it was founded, was scarcely questioned by any, although corn-plaints were frequently heard of its imperfection, and the evasions of which it admitted. In consequence of such complaints, a Government Commissioner had been instructed by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey), when Secretary of State, to inquire into the operation of the Act, and to suggest amendments; and the same instruction had been continued by the right hon. Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole), when he succeeded to office. That Commissioner (Mr. Tremenhere), in his report now before the House, bore testimony to the great and manifest advantages of the Act, notwith- 1080 standing its imperfections, particularity as not allowing any set-off in an action for wages, brought by a workman on account of goods supplied: he added some valuable suggestions for its improvement. But it was not his (Sir H. Halford's) object to urge these upon the attention of the House; but only to bring certain practices within the scope of the law, which were distinctly against its spirit, but which, by an unfortunate legal construction of terms, had been exempted from its operation. He was principally concerned for the framework knitters of the Midland Counties, a numerous and industrious class of workmen, than whom there was none in the kingdom which had been subjected to more distress and difficulty. Their condition, he was bound to admit, and happy to admit, was at present somewhat improved as compared with what it had been. Whether, in consequence of the change in our commercial policy, he could not say; but this he might say, that, observing such improvement, he had, never since it had been apparent, joined in any importunity for return to Protection. The plea, however, he had now to urge, although somewhat abated in its urgency, on the score of humanity, was as strong as it had ever been on that of justice; and this might also be said, that whereas before it was argued that the only remedy for the distress was by abandonment of the trade, there was now the prospect, with the fair play for which he asked, that it might take its place once more among the remunerative branches of British industry. But such was the amount of distress among the framework knitters in 1844, that in that year the Government appointed a Special Commissioner of inquiry, who had made a very elaborate report, which, with the evidence, occupied a large volume. Among the conclusions to which he had arrived was one to the effect that the distress was connected with an over-supply of labour, "having a constant manifest tendency to increase, and none to adapt itself to the irregularities or amount of the demand." Here, then, was an instance in which the ordinary principle of adaptation of supply to demand was frustrated; and this was explained in a subsequent conclusion, in which the excess of supply of labour was shown to be—very powerfully influenced and encouraged by the system of frame rents, and the long-recognised custom of heavy deductions, on one pretext or another, from the wages of the workpeople, 1081 which make it the interest of employers to spread any given amount of work among a larger amount of workmen than is necessary for its performance; a practice further greatly facilitated by the superabundant amount of machinery which has been created and brought into the trade by other than the legitimate employers in it, as profitable investment of capital, induced by the customary exorbitant rent of the frames.These frame rents were a weekly deduction, invariably made from the earnings of the workman on account of the frame in which he works:—The evidence," says the Commissioner, "both of masters and men is perfectly conclusive and coincident on one point, namely, that the amount of this deduction is regulated by no fixed rule or principle whatever; that it is not dependent on the value of the frame, on the amount of money earned in it, or on the extent of the work made; that it has differed in amount at different times, and now does so in different places.And so full of evil did this practice appear to the Commissioner, and so entirely at variance with the spirit and terms of the Truck Act, that by his advice the question was brought to trial before the Courts of Law. Unfortunately, after being argued for two days before Lord Denman, in the Court of Queen's Bench, it was decided against the workmen. He (Sir H. Halford) was far from presuming to dispute the correctness of this judgment, according to the literal construction of the Act; but he thought no man could maintain that a practice, such as that of which he had repeated the description by the Commissioner, could be reconciled with the spirit or intention of a law, having for its object to secure to the workman his full remuneration, and to prevent the master from taking unjust advantage of his position. The deductions thus made were computed by the Commissioner at 40 per cent on the average of the earnings of the workman; but taking frame rent alone, there was abundant evidence to show that the stoppage on that account often extended to more than 100 per cent per annum on the value of the machine for which it was charged. One witness proved that a frame rented by an undertaker, or middleman, at 9d. a week, was afterwards sublet by him to a workman at 2s. 6d., the value of the frame being altogether not more than 5l. The same witness knew of a number of frames, worth from 20s. to 2l. each, let at 1s. 6d. a week; and for one which had cost 30s. he had for five weeks been paying 1s. 6d. Another man stated that he had rented the. same frame for five years without ever having it repaired. This, it might 1082 be said, was the evidence of the workmen themselves, and, as such, should be received with caution. He had no doubt of its truth, but it was confirmed by a witness above all suspicion. When he mentioned the name of Mr. Felkin, he mentioned that of a gentleman known to some Members of the House, and than whom there were none whose character stood higher for accuracy or acquaintance with the details of the hosiery manufacture. That gentleman, in some statistics he had published on the subject, had declared that—a shop of sixty glove frames will net to the undertaker of his own property 575l. per annum, less the expense of repairs 75l., or 500l. clear, for his capital and management. The original outlay (he adds) for the machines would be about 500l.It should be remembered, also, that these rents were levied whether the frames were at work or not, the idleness being itself caused very frequently by the undertaker himself in not giving out a sufficient quantity of materials to employ the workman. Idle or working, well or sick, this inflexible rent was always levied from the poor workmen; and not the least remarkable fact attending the practice—a fact contradicting all the ordinary laws of supply and demand—was this, that in proportion as the trade had been depressed, and the machinery became superabundant, the rent had increased: what had been 9d. a week had become 1s.; what 1s.—1s. 3d., and more. Some facts, showing the extent of the oppression, had been made public since the Commissioner's Report. He took them as he found them in the newspapers, for they had never been contradicted. A case, it was said in the Nottingham Review, was taken before a bench of magistrates at Leicester, by a man named Tilly, who earned 9s. 1½d. in the week. The master took 9s. 1d. for frame rent, and other charges, and gave Tilly ½d. for his week's labour. A man named Fewkes engaged a frame of a master in Green's Lane, Leicester. The frame wanted getting to work, which took the man a great deal of time, and after a whole week's labour he earned 5s. 11¾d.; the master took for frame rent, and other charges, 5s. 6d., and gave the workman for his week's labour 6d., telling him he did not like to be hard with him. A man living in Wheat Street was unable to work, through illness, for several weeks in the early part of the year. Fortunately, he was in a sick club, and had to pay 2s. a week out of his sick pay for the rent of the frame during the whole time he was 1083 ill. Nor did the evil stop with cases of individual hardship, but extended to the general depression of the trade. The frames were some of them the property of the master manufacturers, some of the middlemen or undertakers, or hired by them from the master, or they might be the property of independent persons not otherwise connected with the trade; but in all cases they were let to the workmen by their immediate employers, by whom the extravagant profit upon the rent was made, The mode in which this system operated was emphatically described by the same authority he had before referred to, that of Mr. Felkin. "You have stated," says the Commissioner—that there are frames not the property of the hosier; has this circumstance anything to do with the depression of wages?—These frames (he answers) are ordinarily first stopped in bad times, and last set on in a revival of trade. The effort to get even partial employment for them has often been so great as to induce the middle masters, in whose hands many of them are, to take out work at gradually decreasing rates; or, if not taken out at less prices, to give it out in scanty amounts, and for less than the regular wages. In fact, by working this lever in any state of the trade, when labour is not absolutely scarce, there need be no limit to the depression of wages, except the good feeling of the employer, and the incapacity or unwillingness of the employed to approach nearer to the point, where to work is not more gainful than to be idle.Thus it appeared that the exorbitant rent of the frames was the object to which the real interests of the trade were sacrificed. Many of the employers themselves, implicated as they were in the system under the force of competition, were most earnest in their desire to get rid of it. One of them having expressed his regret at the practice, in which he is compelled to partake, of taking frame rents, calls it "a great bane and a curse to the stocking makers," describing the necessity it produces for a constant reduction of wages, and declaring that "he would glory in a law by which they should be abolished." He (Sir H. Halford) was in possession of a letter from one of the most eminent of the master manufacturers, Mr. Mitchell, who spoke of frame rents as a burden upon his mind, and had given him every encouragement to bring the subject before Parliament. One firm, indeed, there was, who had emancipated themselves from the practice—that of Preston and Co. of Leicester, whose foreman had recently called upon him, accompanied by one of the workmen, expressly to bear testimony to the shame- 1084 ful and disgusting nature of the system generally prevailing, and to the content and satisfaction felt by the workmen among whom it was repudiated. There was another suffering class, moreover, besides that of the framework knitters themselves—the ratepayers, on whom the burden fell, occasioned by their pauperism. He had spoken of the distress among them as mitigated since 1846; but there was painful evidence how far it was from being obviated in the statement he held in his hand of the accounts of the Leicester Union. By that statement it appeared that the number of persons relieved during the half year ending Michaelmas, 1849, was—
§ In the half years following successively, it was—
And while the evils it was his object to abate were such as he had described, he looked in vain in the voluminous evidence before the House for anything like a plausible vindication of the practices with which, in his mind, they were inseparably connected. One witness, indeed, had spoken of what he called the "indirect profit" derived from the rent of the frames, as an inducement to continue them in employment in times when there was no demand for the goods produced; but the Commissioner very justly observed upon this, that many reasons might be adduced to show the unsoundness of the doctrine, in the interest of the labourer, and to demonstrate that any amount of present good its application in practice might bring to him, is far more than counterbalanced by the evils of which it is assuredly the germ. The position was indeed to the effect that there could be nothing to the profit of the employer, which was not to the advantage of the workman. A similar argument had been used in that House in 1830, when the Truck Act was under debate, as if by joining the profits of a retail trade to those derived from a manufacture, the advantage thereby derived to the employer of labour was to be reflected on the workman. But whatever this argument might be worth, as applied to the sale of provisions, it could have no force with respect to the indirect profit, as it was called, from
frame rents and charges. In the one case there was a profit gained by the manufacturer instead of by some one else, separate from and added to his business; in the Other, there was nothing but what was yielded by and had to be supplied from the proceeds of the manufacture itself. The indirect profit thus obtained, therefore, could mean nothing but a disproportionate share in the division of those proceeds, taken from wages and added to profits. The frame rent, exorbitant in amount, and continued under partial employment, was nothing else but a contrivance by which the employer protected himself against all risk under the fluctuations of trade, and secured, at the expense of the workman, an enormous and unfailing interest upon his capital invested in machinery. Compare the case of the framework knitter with that of workmen engaged in other branches of manufacture—in the cotton manufacture for instance. When a factory, with all its appliances of steam and machinery, worked short time, or did not work at all, the workmen suffered necessarily, pro tanto, in their wages; but they were not called on also to indemnify the manufacturer for his share of loss in the interest on his capital invested in machinery. This was peculiar to the workmen in the hosiery manufacture, and it was to this cause the extreme depression to which they had been subject was to be traced. The system was full of evil and injustice, and oppression; and what was the remedy he proposed? Not by any new principle of legislation or new law, but simply by carrying out an existing law in conformity with its original design, to its proper result; thereby to rescue the workmen from an oppressive monopoly, and to admit of their procuring the instruments of their labour whenever they Could do so to the best advantage, at a fair price, settled by competition in the open market, instead of being compelled to pay a price entirely indefinite and arbitrary, having no limit but in the conscience of the masters, and attended with the grossest abuses. This object was universally desired. The petitions in favour of the Bill were signed by thousands upon thousands, in the midland counties alone. He believed there was not a single workman who did not earnestly desire it might pass. On the other hand, the petitions against it were few and scantily signed, and some of them on grounds entirely mistaken. One, for instance, from Staleybridge deprecated the
Bill as interfering with the rent of houses belonging to employers and inhabited by workmen. This was not the case, the third clause of the Bill expressly preserving all the exceptions made in the 23rd sec. of the 1 & 2 Will., among which was one relating to the rent of houses. These petitioners, in common with some others, apprehended, moreover, the loss of a power they exercised by arbitrary stoppage of wages, of levying fines upon their workmen. Now it was very questionable whether such power, so exercised, was legal at the present moment. This much was certain, that there was an Act in force, called the Arbitration Act, having for its object to afford a a tribunal of easy access, by which disputes between masters and workmen might be settled; but what was insisted upon was the absolute power of deducting from the workmen's wages to an indefinite extent, on any pretence set up by the master or his agent. He was very much misinformed, indeed, if this power had not been abused, especially under pretence of imperfect work, to a most grievous and oppressive extent. Then, with regard to gas or fire, or conveniences of this kind, supplied to the workman, what necessity was there that these should be paid for by arbitrary stoppages from wages for work performed, instead of being made an element in the calculation of wages in the first instance? There was also a petition from the hosiers of Nottingham and its neighbourhood, with twenty-nine signatures, which had been circulated also in the form of a paper of objections to the Bill, in company with a similar paper from Leicester. These objectors sought to take their stand, in the first instance, on general grounds, using the set phrases of political economy, as of supply and demand, invariably governing the rate of wages, and of the impossibility of raising wages by legislation. He might be permitted, on this occasion, to observe the proneness of the interested passions of the human heart, its avarice and love of power, to take refuge, often, perhaps unconsciously, behind the assertion of general maxims. No doubt the relation of the supply of labour to the demand for it, is that which governs the rate of wages as the proximate cause; but it was in evidence how powerfully this over-supply of labour is itself influenced by the exorbitance of frame rents and charges, giving an interest to the employers of labour to spread a given amount of work over the
greatest possible number of machines, and among the greatest number of workmen. And in connexion with this doctrine of supply and demand, there is a point well worthy of observation. How is it, if this principle is so invariable in its operation, as it is represented to be, that while it acts in a direct ratio upon the wages of the workmen, by diminution of the share of each in proportion to their number, it acts inversely with respect to the machines, increasing the reward demanded by the iron workmen, if he might so call them, by reason of the very same superabundance under which those of flesh and blood are starved and depreciated? And when we are reminded of the futility of any attempt to raise wages by means of legislation, above their just level, the answer is obvious: we have no such object, but only to raise them up to that level by removal of causes under which they have been depressed below it. The parties interested, we are told, have been deluded into the. expectation that their wages are to be raised to the gross nominal amount, including the deductions to which they have been subjected. No such delusion has been practised upon them, nor are they under any such; but when it is notorious that they are charged in some instances more than 100 per cent per annum, by way of interest on the value of the machines they are compelled to employ, it is fair to expect they will derive some advantage when the arbitrary power under which such charge is made, is taken away, and the charge itself brought under reasonable limits and within regulation of ordinary laws governing transactions of the kind. Some of the objections circulated against the measure were of a more particular kind. They were such, all of them, as he believed might admit of easy answer, with the opportunity of going into details. Something is urged of increased cost of manufacture, by a law which would occasion a different mode of carrying it on from that at present in use. The opinion of the Commissioner as to the effect of frame rents and charges and middlemen, is directly the reverse of this. He thinks they prevent the most economical mode of manufacture by throwing an undue share of the cost of production upon the workmen. The domestic manufacture is represented as in danger of being superseded under the effects of the Bill, and the workmen of being forced from their homes in the country villages, to be collected into factories in the large towns, while a pleasing picture is
drawn of the stocking weaver at work in his cottage, in the midst of his family. Those who knew the real state of the manufacturing villages around Leicester, could judge of the accuracy of such representation;—those who knew the miserable dependence—the squalid poverty—the burden of pauperism that prevailed within them. The weaver using a frame of his own in his own house, might present a condition compatible with some degree of independence and of happiness; but such was never the case, for so sure as he should attempt any such possession, would he be debarred of all employment, as a subject from whom rent was not to be extracted. The real type of the stocking manufacture in the country villages was, in fact, the shop of the middleman, where young persons of both sexes were collected—under no regulation—subject to no discipline—beguiled for the sake of the rent of the frame on which they worked, to commit themselves for life to a miserable trade, in greater numbers than could be supported by it. Then we are told that the middlemen as created under this system were a desirable order of men, as affording means of promotion to the deserving and trustworthy. No doubt promotion was a good thing for those who obtained it, but it should not be enjoyed at the expense of others. He who from a slave was made a slavedriver, was promoted; but this was no argument in defence of slavery. He could not help protesting against the selfish and tyrannical spirit in which those objections had been dictated. The trouble and inconvenience to the employers was urged of keeping two separate sets of accounts—one of rent of frames, and another relating to wages;—as if these were considerations to set against the wellbeing of the workmen. The hardship was alleged, of having to pay the amount of wages, and then trust to the honour of the workman for such payments as might be due from him. There was no such trust required, any more than in any of the other common transactions of life where debt was incurred. Nothing more than a reciprocity was implied, nor was there anything like fairness or generosity in such a representation, as if honour had fled for ever from the bosoms of the poor workmen, to find an unsullied shrine in those of middlemen and master manufacturers. There was another class of objectors, however, to whom no direct interest in the matter could be imputed. Those who thought it an universal
rule of political economy that there should never be any legislative interference in any matter relating to trade. He was certainly no contemner of political economy; he believed there was a natural order the most conducive to the wealth of nations, and which could not be interfered with without mischief. But it was a mistake to suppose that this natural order could not be interfered with otherwise than by legislation. It might be frustrated by vicious customs; and when this happened, it was the proper office of law to interfere to correct those customs. Hence the necessity of the Truck Act; and those who made this objection to the Bill now before the House, must, on the same ground, object to the Truck Act. But the Truck Act was specially vindicated by the highest authority on political economy:—
Whenever," said Adam Smith, "the Legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and workmen, its counsellors are the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the master. Thus the law which obliges the masters in several different trades to pay in money and not in goods, is quite just and equitable. It imposes no real hardship on the masters. It only obliges them to pay that real value in money which they pretended to pay, but did not always really pay in goods: the law is in favour of workmen.
Another great authority took the same view. In debate on the Truck Act in 1830, Mr. Huskisson said what was very applicable in the present case:—
There had been a rivalry among masters to see how far they could carry their system of extortion against the workmen. The best way to put an end to this, was to oblige them to pay their contracts in money. Why was money invented at all, but that it should be an invariable standard and measure of value in contracts between man and man; and to prevent the inconvenience of having that standard in things perishable in their nature and changeable in value? The underselling," he added, "of other manufacturers was not an underselling by means of the manufacturer's greater capital, skill, and industry; it was underselling at the expense of the earnings and comforts of the community.
Nor was the name of Sir Robert Peel wanting on the same side of the question; in the same debate he had said:—
A contract by which a man was paid in truck, (that is, otherwise than in money,) could not be enforced, for it was to be decided by one party and suffered by another, just as the interest and inclination of the first might decide; the market price being uncertain, and not like the value of money, the goodness of the coin, as well as the amount, being ascertainable. According to the
doctrine of the hon. Member for Montrose, there should be no regulations of weights and measures, but every one allowed to weigh and measure as he pleased; his doctrine was that to undersell, and at any rate, and by any measure, was an advantage to the community.
Upon these grounds, and with a deep sense of his own responsibility, as connected with a measure nearly affecting the condition of large bodies of the labouring class, he urged the second reading of the Bill on the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ MR. BIGGS
said, that being himself a manufacturer and an employer to a considerable extent of that class of persons on whose behalf this Bill was ostensibly brought forward, and being consequently in possession of a considerable amount of information on the subject, which was likely to be useful to the House in forming its decision, he was anxious to say a few words at the present stage of the proposed measure. He considered the Bill of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Sir H. Halford) utterly useless, and in some of its provisions it would be even mischievous; at the same time, should it pass, he, as a manufacturer, would conform to it. The distress of the stocking-knitters, which he admitted, was by no means attributable to the cause stated by hon. Gentlemen. There were 50,000 stocking frames in Leicester, Nottingham, and the other districts where this manufacture was carried on, employed in making stockings; 40,000 of which were what were called narrow frames, by which only one stocking could be made at a time. These were the frames which were in use forty years ago; but since that time great improvements had been made in machinery, and a new description of frame had been introduced into the trade, by which twelve stockings could be made in the same time that with the old-fashioned frame it would take to make two; and one strong boy or girl, with one of the improved frames, could turn out as much work as six men with the old frames. In his own neighbourhood, at Leicester, a man might earn 12s. a week at the improved frames in the town, yet such was the attachment of the people in the country villages to the old machines, that the people preferred to work at home at them, although they could not earn more than 5s. or 6s. a week. Again, these wide frames made the more useful goods, and their produce was constantly gaining ground in the 1091 home, the foreign, and the colonial markets. It was this improvement in machinery that was one chief cause of the distress of the handloom weavers in the midland counties; and he was sorry to say that had as was their condition, he believed there was a still darker future for them. The stocking trade was, in fact, in a transition state, and the narrow-frame workers stood in the same relation to the wide-frame workers that the handloom weavers formerly stood, when the power loom was first introduced. The growth of these wide machines was the principal cause of the sufferings of these poor people; another cause was foreign competition. When he (Mr. Biggs) was first in the trade, the English stocking makers had the whole of the American market in their own hands. They had lost that market, which had got into the hands of the Saxons, who were enabled, by the low rate of wages in their own country, to supply goods at a cheaper rate. This was another cause of the depression in the stocking trade; and another was the facility with which the trade was learned, and the consequent superabundance of labour. He might mention a still further cause, namely, the great detriment sustained by the trade by the operations of the corn laws, which it had not yet recovered. These were the causes that had depressed the manufacturer in the midland counties, and had pressed upon the market an excess of labour which could not be absorbed, and the consequence was, distress and suffering, which nothing but time could permanently relieve. The only way in which the hon. Baronet and his friends could be useful would be by uniting in some scheme to promote emigration amongst this class of labourers, and to assist the guardians in apprenticing their children to other trades. But it was asked by the advocates of this Bill, "Why do you, the manufacturers, deduct from the wages of these poor people rent for the frames they work at?" Stocking making, it must be recollected, as generally carried on in the midland counties, was a domestic manufacture. It had been so for a century and a half, and the workmen had always been used to work at their own homes, and it was necessary for the masters to provide them with frames, as they could not provide them for themselves. Rent was charged because there would otherwise be no security that the frame was not used by the workmen to supply goods to a rival master at al ower rate; and the reason that 1092 the rent had increased as wages decreased was, that when wages were low the machine was more worked, and the cost of keeping it in repair was three times as much as it used to be when wages were high. A frame which under the old system would work ten years, would be worked out three times within that period now. These were matters which could never be arranged by legislation, but must be left to the mutual relations of the parties themselves; and if they by Act of Parliament prevented rent being charged, the result would be that the workmen would be unable to get frames at all, and would speedily be reduced to a state of hopeless pauperism. In the towns of Leicester and Nottingham, where the men were employed at the wide frames, they were earning good wages. There had been an advance of wages too within the last fortnight, and he believed the masters would soon have to make up their minds to another. The employment of middlemen had also been complained of. Why, it would be as reasonable to object that the landowners let their estates to farmers, instead of farming them themselves and employing the labourers directly. The middle man was necessary, and instead of diminishing the earnings of the workman, was a means of increasing them. The middleman represented usually a number of workmen; he went to the town, got the work from the masters, carried it back into the country where the workmen lived, apportioned it amongst them, and thus saved their time; found winding-boys, oil, soap, lights, and standing room; superintended the work, and was responsible for it, and, of course, must be paid. If the middleman were not employed, the whole of these expenses must be borne by the individual workman, and would then cost him more in time, or in money, than he now pays, upon the principle of the division of labour. Under the system on which the trade was carried on, they could not do without the middleman, and to put him down would be to extinguish the trade. If this Bill should come into practical operation, it would entirely annihilate a trade employing 100,000 human beings, and involving a capital to the value of 3,500,000l. Such a trade as that ought not to be lightly interfered with. A great deal had been said as to the cupidity of the masters. The manufacturers felt as intensely the distresses of the population among whom they lived as any sentimental 1093 country Gentleman could do. It had been insinuated that they were the causes of any suffering which might exist; and one of the writers who had taken a great part in the discussion, said the stocking manufacturers were the enemies of God and the enemies of the human race, and that every stoppage on the earnings of the labourer was a robbery on him by the employer. The writer further said, that if the stocking manufacturers were what they were represented to be, they were not fit even for the West Indies, but only for the regions of damnation and despair. He had repeatedly remarked that there was a singular identity of sentiment in their political economy between the Tory country gentlemen, and the least informed of the population of the great towns—those who were commonly designated as the rabble. The articles which had appeared in the Morning Post and in the Northern Star might have been very readily transplanted from one paper to the other. There was a further sympathy between the Tory country gentlemen and the rabble of the towns, not only in field sports and antiquated amusements, but in many low vices. His conviction was, that this Bill, if passed, would be inoperative, or, if operative, that it would put a stop to a great portion of the trade, and injure rather than benefit those on whose behalf it was brought forward. With regard to the working classes themselves, they were led to suppose that the effect of the Bill would be to give them the same wages net which they now get in the gross, and that they would have nothing to pay for rent and wear and tear of frames. There could not be a greater fallacy, or one that would occasion more disappointment. These were his opinions as to the measure; but as a manufacturer, and therefore to some extent, as it might be supposed, interested in the matter, and as he was most desirous not to vote against either the real or the supposed interest of the workman, he should take no part in the division, but would leave the question in the hands of the House.
§ MR. PACKE
said, he also knew something of the situation of the unfortunate persons whom this Bill was intended to relieve, and he would say that a more degrading system of tyranny and slavery than that to which they were exposed did not exist in Her Majesty's dominions. The simple object of the Bill was to give these people "a fair day's wages for a fair day's 1094 work," which they did not have at pre-sent; and without some such measure as this it would be impossible to raise them from their present degraded situation. He believed that, without the enactment of some such measure as that which the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Halford) had introduced, it would be impossible to relieve the workmen employed in the hosiery manufacture in the midland districts from the sufferings and privations which they at present endured. He (Mr. Packe) founded his demand for justice to these unfortunate men upon the report of the Commission of 1845; and he was also aware, from his own experience—being connected by relations of property with a large manufacturing village—of the great distress which prevailed among the class to which by the Bill under their consideration it was sought to give relief. With regard to the frame rents, he thought that his hon. Colleague (Sir H. Halford) had clearly shown that a charge of from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. a week for a machine which did not originally cost more than 4l. or 5l., was a perfect extortion. He (Mr. Packe) had offered to assist some of the workmen to buy their own frames, in order to save the rent, but their answer was, "You will ruin us; for a man who owns his own frame can get no employment." Was that not enough to make hon. Members take care that those men should have employment? The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Biggs) had spoken of the farmers as being middlemen. But did the farmers let out their harrows and their ploughs, and at the end of the week, instead of paying their labourers their full wages, make a deduction in the name of rent for those implements? The frames were often the property of butchers, bakers, gentlemen's servants, women, and others, who bought them as investments and let them to the hosiers, who again made profits out of them by letting them to the poor men. Petitions had been presented to that House signed by from 20,000 to 30,000 of these unfortunate men, and, however the manufacturers might oppose the prayers of the petitioners, he hoped that, as a matter of justice, the House would accede to their requests. He would most cordially give his support to the Bill.
§ MR. STRUTT
said, that as he represented a large manufacturing town, the interests of which would be a materially affected by this Bill, fee wished to state his opinion upon the subject. He had resided during his whole life in the neighbour- 1095 hood of the framework knitters; he had seen the patience with which at different times they had borne great sufferings and privations; he had for about twenty years represented large bodies of them in that House; and he felt the warmest sympathy towards them, and the strongest desire to promote their interests. It was not, however, enough that those persons were well worthy of our sympathy, and that large numbers of them had petitioned for this measure; but it was the duty of that House to inquire what would be the probable effects of this Bill—whether it was consistent with sound principles, and whether it was likely to promote the interests of the persons for whose advantage it was professedly proposed. He believed that a great fallacy had been very generally propagated in the manufacturing districts upon this subject. It was well known that under the present system wages were paid in gross, and a return was afterwards required from the framework knitters in the shape of rent for the frames intrusted to them for their use; but a very general notion had gone abroad that, supposing this Bill were passed, the framework knitters would not be called upon to pay a rent for the use of the frames they worked at, and therefore would be able to pocket the whole of their gross wages, and would consequently so far be gainers. He need not tell the House that there could not be a more gross and evident fallacy. The rate of wages must depend upon the question of supply and demand, and, whether the workmen were paid in one way or another, whether the masters kept the machines in their own hands, or let them to the workmen, and required them to pay a rent, the ultimate result would be the same; and it was preposterous to suppose that it was in the power of any Parliament, or of any Government, to raise wages by legislation. The object of this Bill, as he understood it, was to put an end to frame rents. [Sir H. HALFORD: No, to excessive and arbitrary rents.] Well, then, he supposed the hon. Baronet conceived that the measure would allow the continuance of frame rents, but would provide that such rents should in future be moderate and fair. Now, by what means this end was to be accomplished, the hon. Baronet had entirely omitted to show; and he (Mr. Strutt) was at a loss to understand how they were to be rendered moderate instead of oppressive, by Simply enacting that they should not be 1096 deducted from wages. He (Mr. Strutt) also could say that he had been distinctly informed by a deputation from working men that, though this Bill did not actually abolish frame rents, no doubt its real object was to put an end to them. It might be said, "Why do these hosiers adopt a different system from that pursued in ordinary manufactures, where no rent is required from the workmen on account of the machinery?" Why, in the case of ordinary manufactures the machinery was contained in the factory, where the work was carried on under the eyes of the master, who superintended the use of such machinery. In the hosiery trade the frames were distributed over a space of many miles, being intrusted to workmen in their own houses; and if no rent were required, it would not only be in the power of the framework knitters to abstain for any period at their pleasure from using the frames at all, but, after obtaining frames from one manufacturer, they might take in work from other manufacturers who had not been at the expense of providing frames, and who would, therefore, be able to pay higher wages to the workmen. If this Bill should be successful, its effect would necessarily be to drive the trade from country places to the towns, where it could be carried on in factories directly under the eye of the masters—a result which would be most distasteful to the workpeople. He would not now enter into the great question of the comparative advantages and evils of the factory system; but he was well assured that those of the working classes by whom the Bill was supported, would be grievously disappointed if this should be the result of the measure, for they would be deprived of the power of carrying on their manufacture at home; they would be deprived of the power of working at their own hours, and of living and bringing up their families in the country away from large manufacturing towns; and they would be deprived of the opportunity of coupling with their manufacturing employment, garden labour, and other out-of-door exercise. It must not be supposed that he did not admit that, at certain periods, the framework knitters had been subjected to severe suffering. Undoubtedly that class had, at various periods of depression, suffered severe privations, and he had no doubt they had often been subjected to great oppression and injury on the part of manufacturers and middlemen, who had used unjustly and improperly the power 1097 placed in their hands. But this was not the consequence of any peculiar state of the law, as there was no difference between the law which applied to this and to any other trade. The framework knitters had the same power which other operatives possessed to make any agreement they pleased with the master manufacturers, and to enforce such agreements by law. He believed the depression to which the business of the framework knitters had been subjected had arisen from excessive competition in the trade, which was very easily learnt, and which could to a great extent be carried on by women and children. Although these privations and oppressions might be met, and had to a certain degree been met, by indirect legislation, tending to improve the position of the workpeople, he doubted whether such sufferings could be altogether remedied by any act of direct legislation; and he was satisfied the case could not be met by the present Bill, which he believed might be very easily evaded. He did not understand how it was supposed the present Bill could be effectual. If its object was to cause reasonable, instead of unreasonable, frame rents to be paid, the hon. Baronet had not attempted to show how the measure would have such an operation; and if, on the other hand, the intention of the Bill was to put an end to frame rents altogether, it did not appear to him that it would effect that object. Nothing would be more easy than for the master to comply with the provisions of the Bill by paying the wages in full; at the same time requiring the workman, on pain of dismissal from his employment, at once to repay the frame rents out of his wages. The hon. Baronet, however, was not content with putting an end to frame rents, but he proposed also by this Bill to put an end to various other rents. The first clause of the Bill prohibited any employer in any of, the trades mentioned from deducting from the wages of persons in his employ any part of such wages for frames, houses, or machines. The Bill would, therefore, prevent any manufacturer who happened to be the owner of houses in which his workmen lived, from deducting the rent from their wages. It was not an uncommon thing, particularly in the small manufacturing towns, for the workmen to live in houses belonging to their employers, the occupancy of which they retained from year to year, and sometimes from generation to generation. The wages of such workmen were generally much more regular than 1098 those of workmen in the larger manufacturing towns. The rent was deducted from their wages, and the workman was thus enabled to give to his landlord, who was also his employer, the security of his wages for his rent, and so got upon low terms a better house than he would otherwise be likely to obtain. The present Bill, if effective, would put an end to this practice, and would deprive the workman of the advantage of being able to offer his wages as security for his rent. He (Mr. Strutt) might be asked, "If you admit that these workpeople have at various times suffered severe privations and oppressions, what remedy would you propose for this evil?" Now, he did not admit that all evils were capable of any direct legislative remedy. He thought, therefore, they ought not to deceive the working man; and, although he knew that the course he was taking might subject him to a certain degree of unpopularity, he felt it his duty to say that he did not think this Bill would provide any remedy for the evil complained of. He believed that their object should be to do all in their power by measures of indirect legislation to improve the condition of the persons whose case was under consideration, and thus, by placing them in a more independent position, to render them better able to make agreements with their employers on their own terms. He believed that during the seven years which had elapsed since the alteration of their commercial system, there had been far less of. that depression of trade and want of employment which was the real cause of the sufferings of the framework knitters, than during any previous period of the same duration. It was, however, rather a curious fact that the hon. Gentlemen whose names appeared on the back of this Bill, had all, as he believed, opposed those measures. Although he doubted the practicability of removing the evils complained of by any act of direct legislation, yet he should be always anxious to give his best consideration to any measures which might be proposed with that object. He might then be asked why he did not consent to the second reading of this Bill, in the hope that it might be amended in Committee. That would no doubt be a very convenient course for him to adopt; but he did not think it would be a manly or straightforward course, for he had heard no proposal which would remove the objections he entertained to the measure, and he was not himself prepared to propose 1099 any Amendment which would be likely to put an end to the grievances complained of without producing still greater evils. He therefore felt it his duty to oppose the second reading of the Bill.
said, he could not estimate the talents of hon. Gentlemen opposite at so low a rate as to suppose they believed what they said as to the effect of this Bill. They were the greatest enemies of the working men, and were doing mischief by these attempts to legislate—attempting to do that which no legislation could accomplish. He objected altogether to the harsh language used by hon. Gentlemen opposite towards the masters in regard to the working men. Persons who talked in such a tone were the greatest enemies to the working classes, whom they led astray by misquotations from Adam Smith, and taught to believe themselves tyrannically used, when, in fact, they received for their labour all that it was worth to those who employed it. The masters were necessarily subjected to those necessities which competition entailed upon all. They were compelled to get their work done at the lowest rate of wages, and to introduce now machinery to meet that competition by which they were opposed by the Saxon and other foreign manufacturers. Since 1824 the men bad been free to meet and arrange with their masters as to the rate of wages, hours of labour, and other matters affecting them; but this Bill would put an end to that freedom of masters and men to make agreements between them for their mutual advantage. He fully admitted and regretted the suffering to which the working classes were at times subject; but it was not to be prevented or remedied by legislation of this nature. He should move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question add the words "upon this day six months."
The MARQUESS of GRANBY
said, it had not been his intention to trouble the House with any observations upon the measure under their consideration; but as he had been alluded to in the course of the debate, he should shortly state the reasons why his name appeared upon the back of the Bill. There were two questions to be considered in connexion with the subject which they were then engaged in discussing. The first of those questions was, whether the manufacturing labourers were suffering to the 1100 extent which had been represented? and the second was, whether the Bill which the hon. Baronet the Member for South Leicesshire (Sir H. Halford) had introduced, was of such a character as to afford, if it should be passed into law, a remedy for those sufferings? Now, not a single speaker upon either side of the House had denied the existence of a considerable amount of distress among the working manufacturers in the midland districts. That distress was, in his opinion, mainly to be attributed to the system of deducting frame rent from the wages which those workmen received. The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Biggs) however—himself a manufacturer—while admitting the existence of suffering among that class, had attributed that suffering to a different cause. That hon. Member had stated that the distress which prevailed in the manufacturing districts was mainly owing to the transition state of the hosiery trade, and to the introduction of a new machine, with the use of which the workmen were not as yet sufficiently acquainted to enable them to earn any considerable amount of wages. But he (the Marquess of Granby) would ask why, if such was the state of things, no attempt was made to enable the workmen to adopt the new machinery, and to acquire a thorough acquaintance with its use? The object of the measure before the House was to enable the poor man to go to whomsoever he pleased in order to hire a frame, or to become the proprietor of one himself, from doing which he was precluded under the present system. Hon. Gentlemen upon the other side of the House had said that they would oppose the Bill, because they believed it would be in its results absolutely nugatory. Such was not his opinion; but even if it were so, it could, at all events, do no harm. This Bill, of which Gentlemen professing to be political economists ought to approve, gave the operative the power of going into the cheapest market and obtaining the frames, and the best, from whomsoever he chose. It was not true, as the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had stated, that the supporters of this Bill wished to delude the poor people whose interests it affected. What they wanted was, that these persons should obtain that which they thought would be a great benefit to them, or at least that the House of Commons should do all it could to remedy the evils of which they complained. Until the House did that, they might depend upon it that the people would 1101 not be content, but would become more and more impressed with the conviction that the refusal of the House to remove the evils in question proceeded, not from the want of ability to do it, but from an unwillingness to do them justice. The hon. Member for Newport had referred their distress to two causes: first, to the state of transition through which their trade had passed; and secondly, to the repeal of the corn laws. Now, if the people of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire had been enjoying a large measure of prosperity, he would not have been surprised if the hon. Gentleman had referred to that as an example of what the repeal of the corn laws had done; but he confessed to have heard with astonishment the hon. Member referring to the abolition of the corn duties as the cause of distress and suffering among a large body of the people. The hon. Member also stated that a stange sympathy existed between the country Tory gentlemen and what he was pleased to term the rabble. Now, if such a sympathy did exist, he, for one, rejoiced in the fact. He rejoiced that the country Tory gentlemen sympathised with the people, not only in their amusements and recreations, but also in their distresses. He did not mean to say that the country Tory gentlemen were altogether exempt from the vices which the other classes of the community possessed; but if they did participate in their vices, he hoped they might be allowed to share also in their virtues.
§ SIR JOSHUA WALMSLEY
said, that there was no man in that House whose opinions he regarded with more respect than those of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose; and he believed that there was no man in that House, or out of it, more disposed than was his hon. Friend to promote the welfare of the producing classes. It was, therefore, with the greatest reluctance that he differed from him on this occasion. He certainly agreed with him in the remark he (Mr. Hume) had made, that it was exceedingly unfortunate that on this occasion any attacks should have been made on the country gentlemen as country gentlemen, and that a question which greatly interested a large class of people should have been irrelevantly and mischievously mixed up with the old controversy about town and country. He (Sir J. Walmsley) trusted, however, that the House would give to the real matter before it all the attention which its importance deserved, and that it would not allow its 1102 consideration to be diverted, on the one hand, by taunts such as these, or, on the other, by questions raised of interference with political theories, which had nothing; whatever to do with the real merits of the; subject in hand. The statements set forth by the hon. Baronet who introduced this measure, and the official proofs he had adduced in support of those statements, en-titled them to, consideration; and he would venture to observe that the provisions of this Bill intimately concerned the interests of a class who, of all others in this country, were the least able to maintain their own rights or to redress their own grievances. The necessity for some such measure was rendered evident to his mind from the fact that it was customary to deduct from the, nominal wages of the framework knitters some 20 to 50 per cent under the heads of rent, standing room, giving out and taking in the work, and various other charges; so that the net wages of a skilled hand, labouring twelve to thirteen hours per day in a narrow frame, did not exceed 6s. to 7s. per week. Nor had these rates materially varied, except for the worse, for many years. His hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Biggs) had said, that the wages were at the rate of from 5s. to 6s. a week; but he believed he was better advised, when he said that the range was from 6s. to 7s. Now, it must be evident, that upon such a pittance it was scarcely possible for a man to support his wife and family; and the result but too often was, that in a season of even partial distress the unhappy workmen were thrown upon the parish. In 1846, the population of Leicester being about 50,000, there were in the union 812 persons, and receiving outdoor relief 10,895 persons; the expense to the parish being 27,000l. In 1847 this expense was increased to 37,614l.; the number of persons in the house then being 1,124, and the number of persons receiving outdoor relief being 15,985. Now, in a population of 50,000, here was one-third pauperised; and it was not surprising that some change should he sought for, since the same circumstances which caused such misery might again occur. What was it which this laborious set of men sought by this Bill? What was it which the Bill itself really proposed? Not any interference with rents or charges in connexion with the work, but simply that wages, whatever the rate of those wages might be, should be paid in full, and in the current coin of the realm; and that rents and charges should 1103 be no longer a custom, but a matter of mutual agreement between employers and employed. He appealed to the House, was that an unreasonable demand? Was it a demand which the House could fairly deny? It was due to those whom he had the honour to represent to state that some of his constituents objected to this Bill as unnecessary, if not actually mischievous, legislation; on the other hand, he had numerous representations from Leicester in its favour. He begged the House to remark that he had that day presented a petition signed by between 800 and 900 of the ratepayers of Leicester, with the addresses of each affixed, in which they stated that they resided among a class of artificers who were suffering from "heavy and unwarrantable stoppages in their wages under various pretexts;" that "the provisions of the existing Truck Act do not reach these grievances; that the system of stoppages acts injuriously on the interests of the persons employed, without—the House would observe that point—any corresponding benefit to the trade in general." He had presented a second petition to the same effect from twenty-seven to twenty-eight of the frame owners and manufacturers of Leicester; and the document was undoubtedly one of a very significant and important character. Large numbers of his constituents, in the representations which they had made to him, corroborated the statements of the hon. Baronet who had charge of the Bill. They traced their depressed condition to evasions of the spirit of the Truck Act. They contended that if this Bill became law, their circumstances would be greatly ameliorated and improved; and they further maintained that this benefit might be conferred upon them, under Such a measure, without the violation of any principle, and without injustice to any of the other classes of the community. There was no desire on the part of these workmen to dictate the rate of wages. No supposition could be more unfounded. They knew as well as any Gentleman in that House that wages could not be regulated by Act of Parliament, but that they must inevitably be regulated by supply and demand. Nor did they wish in any way to interfere with the undoubted rights of property—such rights they held as sacred as any Members of that House—and in the maintenance of those rights they had, they believed, and believed truly, as deep an interest as the richest. But they also be- 1104 lieved that they were suffering from exorbitant exactions, the results of a bad system; and they asked that the same system should come into use among them as was already in use in other similar trades. It was, at any rate, therefore not unreasonable that they should call upon the House fairly to consider their grievances. The question was one which could only be decided by facts; and in confirmation of what he had said, he would venture to read to the House a communication he had received from the framework knitters of Leicester. These people's story was to be told best in their own simple language. They said—Leicester, March 14, 1853.Sir—As we have heard that misrepresentations have been made in reference to the Bill now before the House of Commons, entitled 'A Bill to Secure the Payment of Wages without Stoppages,' we feel it a duty we owe to ourselves on behalf of the trade to put you (as our representative) in possession of our own views relative to the said Bill. First, as respects the question of the abolition of rent; we do not desire, as has been circulated, to use the machinery of any person, whether manufacturer or not, without the owner being enabled to secure to himself the same rights and advantages for the capital invested as is secured by law to the owners of all other descriptions of property; but we do object that excessive rents and numerous other deductions on account of work being given should be made from wages, irrespective of the quantity of material delivered out to be manufactured, the value of the machine, or in the absence of any mutual contract. The Legislature passed an Act in 1831 prohibiting the payment of wages in goods or otherwise, but they did not prevent a master selling goods on the same conditions as other people, providing they did not deduct, or bargan to deduct, such debt from the wages earned. With respect to the Bill before the House, we say there is nothing therein contained to prevent a manufacturer or other persons from letting for hire any frame; nor is there anything to prevent a workman from hiring a frame from whom he can agree with, on the same conditions as all other property is let, or hired, or leased. The word 'house,' inserted in line 4, clause 1, we think is clearly indicative of our true meaning of all the terms referred to in the Bill. No Gentleman can suppose for a moment that we desire to reside in houses, whether the property of hosiers or others, without paying rent; nor do we desire to force, directly or indirectly, any other principle in respect to frame property, or refuse to pay for any work which may actually be performed by any other person on their behalf; but we do object to power being invested in the hands of any person to deduct what they please under custom alone from the earnings of labour without any court of appeal accessible to them on account of heavy law expenses. Second, in respect of defective work, we think all questions which may arise under that term are already provided for under the Act 5 Geo. IV., cap. 96; and the frame property of proprietors is protected under the Act 6 & 7 Vict., cap. 40. In conclusion, we beg to state 1105 most emphatically that we abjure all intention at present, or for the future, to interfere in any degree with the rights of property, holding that each person has a right to let, lease, or Sell on the best terms he can: but we also hold hat the same right belongs to ourselves in the disposal of our labour, and that no stoppage ought to be made from the earnings of workmen in respect of frames, house, fines or gas, or other charge which may be made; but that the question of wages, of debt, &c., should be separate from each other.—We are, Sir, your obedient servants,GEORGE BUCKBY,JOSEPH ELLIOTT,On behalf of the Committee of Framework Knitters.Sir J. Walmsley, M. P.These frame workers were an exceedingly numerous body, of the industrious character represented by the hon. Member for Newport, numbering in all about 100,000 persons; and, as that hon. Member had also explained to the House, they were scattered in various towns and villages chiefly in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire; and the frames being in their own houses, the manufacture was of a domestic character, and overlookers or middlemen were employed. The persons who were now petitioning the House of Commons knew all these circumstances, and accepted all the consequences; but they insisted that the system adopted was an artificial and not a natural one, and that it was not fair to add to their misfortunes by imported evils. And it should be understood that the petitioners were not petitioning in the abstract—the remedy they sought had been tried. Some manufacturers had already, of their own accord, abandoned the system of deductions and charges; and they had found the experiment in every respect a fortunate one, not at all injurious to themselves, and greatly beneficial to their workmen. There could be no question that if such a general change were brought about, it would do much to foster and to harmouise those kindly feelings which should ever regulate the relations between the employers and employed. He spoke as an employer—probably of as large a number of men as the hon. Member for Newport—and he spoke earnestly, and after much experience. But these unhappy people in Leicestershire had waited long, and were losing hope, if not patience, and they appealed now to the sense of justice of that House, and through that House, and he hoped not in vain, to the good sense and fairness of the employing classes. He held in his hand a letter from a Leicester firm, which would show to the House what excellent grounds there were for auguring well of such a 1106 change as the Bill would effect; for It was to be observed that his correspondent had carried on his business operations for many years without any of those mischievous deductions of the prevalent system. The letter, which was signed "S. Brown," for "W. Preston and Company,"said—Dear Sir—With reference to the Bill now before Parliament, of Sir H. Halford's, to secure the payment of wages without stoppages, I beg to say that the firm with which I am connected have carried on their business without 'charges' for seven years, and have found it beneficial and satisfactory to all parties concerned.What followed was worthy of the House's attention; since it answered the supposition that these framework knitters were attacking the rights of property; the fact being that they only required that there should be two persons to the bargain, and that an old but a bad custom, by which they believed (and as he believed also) their interests suffered, should be got rid of. Mr. Brown said—But we do not desire, nor does the Bill, in our opinion, intend, to interfere with frame property in any way whatever; but simply that rent shall not be deducted from wages, but that wages shall be paid in full in the, current coin of the realm.Perhaps the House might think this argument as to the benefit derivable from a voluntary change of system was somewhat beside the question immediately before the House; but he thought it was not waste of time to show that such a change was practicable, and that where it had been tried it had been successful. In defending this Bill, he most emphatically repudiated the idea that he was interfering with free trade, or that he was assailing any established principle of political economy. He was only asking the House to do in this case what it had, done with the best results in other cases. He should now, and on every other occasion, give his hearty support to any and every measure that would enforce and carry out to the utmost the spirit of the Truck Act—by which he believed the working classes had been greatly benefited, and without which he was sure their interests would have continuously and increasingly suffered. One word as to the manufacturers themselves. He was sorry that remarks had fallen which were unkind and offensive (and untrue, too) to the manufacturers. He knew them well. He was not one himself, but he had associated and mixed with them; and he was well assured that they were a class who, as a class, spared no pains to secure the welfare and the social happiness of the artisans and 1107 those around them. He was also persuaded that, if it could be shown to them that this Bill was practical, or could be so altered in Committee as to meet their objections, leaving its benefits, and depriving it of what they regarded as its powers of mischief, the House would hear no more of their opposition, which was offered on conscientious grounds, and not with an exclusive reference to their own interests. They were a class who had often proved that they would not shrink from raising the artisan, even at the risk of some cost to themselves. On these grounds he would support the Bill; and he hoped that the principle being adopted, the House would go into a fair discussion of the details in Committee.
MR. TATTON EGERTON
said, that there were many other trades besides that of the framework knitters which would be affected by the proposed Bill. It would affect the silk trade, and affect it most prejudicially, as he believed. In the small villages around Manchester many persons were employed in the making of silk goods; and when the work was badly done, deductions were made from the wages of those people. But if that Bill were passed, the silk manufacturers would no doubt renounce a practice under which they would be liable to be brought at any moment before a County Court Judge; they would cease to give employment to people at their own homes, and thus a large number of workmen would very severely suffer. Again, it appeared that the silk manufacturers often paid for the gas used by operatives working at looms, and afterwards deducted from their wages the amount of that payment; but under the Bill then before the House that amount could no longer be recovered. The measure would also have a very injurious effect on persons employed in the cotton trade. Many of the cotton manufacturers built houses for the use of their workmen, and deducted from their wages the amount of their rent. But, according to the Bill, that mode of receiving the rent of those houses would be illegal. To meet the particular case, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Sir H. Halford) ought to bring in the Bill as a local Bill, but it ought not to be applied to Lancashire, Yorkshire, and the whole country. He could not help thinking that the Bill, as it stood, would have a very prejudicial effect on the condition of many of. the workmen themselves. He believed that in the silk trade and the cotton trade, 1108 in particular, it would injure the workmen to an extent of which hon. Members generally seemed to have no conception. He hoped the right hon. President of the Board of Trade would see whether that Board sanctioned such Bills as this, which interfered between master and man. He trusted that the time was not coming when the House of Commons would attempt to regulate the contracts between the manufacturers of this country and the men whom they employed.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, he rose with great pleasure, in answer to the appeal of the hon. Member for North Cheshire (Mr. T. Egerton). So far from acquiescing in the remarks that had been made as to the want of sympathy which existed between hon. Gentlemen opposite and the working classes, he thought it was satisfactory to observe that, when any subject affecting the interest of those classes was brought forward, it was not only sure to obtain the full and earnest consideration of that House, but there was a tendency on the part of many hon. Gentlemen to deal with it in a spirit of kindness and humanity, and from a feeling that it was the duty of the House, if possible, to remove all the evils of which the labouring classes complained. At the same time he could not help saying that the tendency was a dangerous one, and he trusted they would not yield to it on the present occasion, because they were dealing with a subject in which, if they made a mistake, the recoil would be on the very persons whose condition they desired to ameliorate. If he believed that the complaints made by the framework knitters of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire would be met by the adoption of this Bill, he should certainly advise the House to adopt it, subject to such limitations and amendments as might be agreed to in Committee; but he believed that the direct opposite would be the effect of the measure, and consequently he should give his vote for the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume). In the great manufacturing staples of this country, we enjoyed a vast superiority over all other countries in the world, by reason of our great mechanical power, and our valuable natural advantages; but in those branches of trade with which this Bill was designed to interfere, we were obliged to complete in the open markets of America as well as in those of various Continental countries where labour was cheaper, and we consequently could 1109 not afford to pass measurer which would tend to fetter and restrict the home manufacturer, and to benefit his foreign rival., How was this trade carried on in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire? It was a trade in which the wages: of the workpeople were very low, because it was one which did not require skilled labour It was a trade which every child could enter There was, of course, therefore, great competition, and the remuneration was small. In the districts in which the trade was carried on, the people employed in it lived for the most part in villages, some miles distant front the town where the master manufacturers resided. They were not able to purchase frames for themselves, but were compelled to hire them, and, in fact, the contract for hiring the frames was at the foundation of the whole occupation. It had been said that this was within; the Track Act; but the Court of Queen's Bench had decided otherwise—the Judges holding that part of the wages was earned' by the frame and part by the operative, and; that it was necessary, therefore, that a deduction should be made for that portion of the work which was carried on by the machine. Why was this necessary? Because, unless the master manufacturer took security, by making the agreement in that form, and deducting part of the Wages, that his frame was used for his own benefit, it might be employed by the workman in the service of somebody else at lower prices, and so used to the detriment of its owner. If they prevented the master manufacturer from taking that security, what would be the result? Why, they would simply compel him to refuse letting his frames to the workpeople who lived at a distance from the town where he himself resided, and who would thereby be virtually and practically deprived of the means of earning a livelihood. Again, objections had been made to the middleman. What was his position? The workpeople residing at a distance of some miles from the town in which the master manufacturer carried on his business, had, in the first place, to fetch their work from the warehouse of their employer, and they had also to take it back again when finished. Now, the question for consideration was, were they to make these long and frequent journeys themselves, or were they to engage some one person to make them for the benefit of all, and so save a great deal of useless trouble and expense? Hitherto they had found it cheaper, as well as more 1110 convenient, to employ one person to perform the journeys for them, than to undertake the journey themselves; Well, then, it being necessary, for the employment of these people at all, that they should hire frames, the House was asked to prevent them hiring frames from the persons who could let them cheapest; and it being equally necessary, in order to save both time and money, that a person should be employed to go between the master manufacturer and his workpeople, it was proposed to prevent the employment of the person who could perform the journeys; cheapest. And this, it was said, the House of Commons was going to do for the benefit of the operative classes. Mr. Muggeridge, the Commissioner appointed to investigate this subject, had stated in his Report, that so far from the master manufacturers having a monopoly of frame hiring, a large number of machines were in the hands of butchers, bakers, publicans, servants, and all kinds of persons, who made a business of letting them to the workpeople, If that were so, what became of the arguments based upon an assumed compulsory arrangement between the employers and the employed? On the whole, he believed that this Bill, if passed into a law, would practically operate as a. prohibition of the labour of those workmen who lived in country villages, and that the House was asked to give an undue preference to the operatives who resided in the towns, and who, being under the supervision of the master manufacturer himself, had naturally an interest in desiring that the Bill should pass, because it would rid; them of the competition to which they were now exposed by their country brethren. He admitted that the motives which had induced the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Halford) to bring forward this Bill, were such as did him credit; but as the effect of the measure, if passed, would be mischievous to the persons whom it was intended to serve he thought that House ought to observe great caution in dealing with so delicate a question, especially when it was sought under cover of sincere but misguided philanthropy, to strike a blow at a trade by which large numbers of poor people earned a humble subsistence. The House was asked to introduce into one trade a principle which it had never yet been proposed to apply to all trades. No one could foresee the amount of mischief which might ensue; and, believing it was their duty not to do harm where they had not an oppor- 1111 tunity of doing good, he earnestly hoped the House would reject the Bill.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the object of the Bill was, to make the principle of the Truck Act applicable to the case then under their consideration. Now, the principle of the Truck Act was, that every labourer should be paid in full and in the current coin of the realm; and the framework knitters asked that they should be entitled to the full benefit of that Act, and that they should be allowed to receive the gross amount of their wages. He would endeavour to give the House an idea of the extent of the evil of which those poor people complained. He held in his hand a statement of the objections which had been made to the Bill by the manufacturers of Nottingham. It was therein assumed that each frame must be hired at a percentage on the work done by means of it. That was a gratuitous assumption, for the rent might be paid by the day or week; but it afforded evidence of the manufacturers' estimate of the profits on the frames in the shape of rent; from that statement it appeared that a framework knitter earning 10s. per week, or 26l. a year, paid 11 per cent, or 2l. 17s. 2½d. a year, for the use of the frame. The value of the frame might be taken at 4l.; so that the workman paid for its use, each year, 75 per cent on its value; or, in other words, he paid in fifteen months the whole amount of that value. The total Dumber of the frames might be taken at 40,000, and their value might be taken at 160,000l.; and for the use of them there was annually paid by the workmen a sum of 120,000l. Such was the estimate of the enormous profits which the objectors to this Bill sought to defend. In another portion of the statement put forward by the manufacturers of Nottingham, it was said that "all legislative attempts to raise the standard of wages among the working classes gave rise to expectations which were invariably disappointed, and were inconsistent with the rights of property and the true interests of the labourers themselves." Now that was a direct reflection on the course taken by that House in adopting the Ten Hours Act. It also assumed. a principle to which he, for one, could never assent—the principle that one man had a right of property in the labour of another. A right not by virtue of agreement or direct contract between the employer and employed, but by a vicious and oppressive combination between the manufacturers and their middlemen, the 1112 owners of the frames, by means of which these exorbitant profits were extorted from the operatives. He said that if that were to be held as one of the rights of property, the rights of property would be very soon endangered. It was because those parties were endeavouring to carry out a system based on those erroneous and dangerous assumptions and worse practices that he hoped the House would give its sanction to the second reading of the Bill. The abuses by which the cotton framework knitters were oppressed did not prevail to the same extent in the silk trade, and therefore the parties immediately interested in the silk trade need not apprehend any serious consequences to themselves from the passing of the measure. But even if the objection urged by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cheshire (Mr. T. Egerton) upon that point were a valid one, there was no reason why any trade in which no particular oppression had been proved to have existed, should not be exempted by the House, when the Bill was in Committee, from its operation. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said that by adopting the measure, the principles of free trade would be violated. Now, he (Mr. Newdegate) had hoped that the time had come when the principles of practical good sense, irrespectively of all theories, would be applied to questions of that kind. He warned hon. Gentlemen opposite that by appealing in all cases, in defiance of justice and good feeling, to their abstract doctrine, they would bring that doctrine into contempt, and would make it a millstone round their own necks. He confessed that having some lingering affection for the protective system, he could hardly refrain from wishing that they should adopt a course so fatal to the views which they themselves entertained. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cardwell) seemed to suppose that by adopting that measure they would prevent freedom of action on the part of the workmen in entering into contracts with their employers. But that was an error which could only be attributed to the right hon. Gentleman's ignorance of the facts of the case. The manufacturers at present would not allow the workmen to buy their own frames, for they would not employ them, if they did. A system of favouritism prevailed in the trade, and the workmen who did not use the frame of some particular individual received no employment at all. In many instances the manufacturers participated in the enormous profits from 1113 frame rents; in other instances they paid then middlemen by that means; in all cases they deducted the frame rent from the inadequate wages of the workmen. In conclusion, he had to express his belief that the House by giving its sanction to the measure now before it, would not only be doing justice, but it would also be rendering a great service to a large body of the poorest and most helpless operatives of this country.
§ MR. GARDNER
said, he very much doubted whether this was a case in which the interference of the Legislature was justifiable. He would admit that there were a great many abuses and hardships under the present system, but he very much doubted whether they would be practically abated by the destruction of the existing machinery, so long as the supply of labour was in such excess of the demand. The hon. Baronet (Sir H. Halford) would better employ his talents in endeavouring to persuade these operatives to betake themselves to more profitable occupations, or, at all events, not to bring up their children to such occupations; and, in the intervals of leisure between these annual empiricisms, he might well consider whether a tendency to contract the market for our manufactures was consistent with the interests of a community which had suffered, perhaps, more than any other from the baneful effects of protection. The general feeling of the employers of Leicester with respect to this Bill was not so much one of alarm as of indifference—or, if he might say so without appearing rude,—contempt. For this was not the first time that the hon. Baronet had "tried his 'prentice hand" upon the employers of labour; and, as the former Bill was found to be inoperative, so their feeling was, that though this Bill might cause the parties trouble, it also would be inoperative, from the impossibility of complying with its conditions, and at the same time profitably carrying on the trade. A very numerous portion of his (Mr. Gardner's) constituents, however, were most decidedly in favour of the Bill; and their poverty and distress entitled them to the most indulgent consideration on the part of the House, and particularly of their representatives. All that he had heard during the course of debate had only confirmed his own suspicion that the Bill was founded upon a false principle, and would tend to exaggerate the mischiefs it was designed to cure. He must, with very great reluctance to go counter 1114 to the wishes of so numerous a portion. of his constituents, oppose the second reading of it.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he would implore the House to give this Bill a second reading. No man could have listened to the debate without making three observations:—First, that those who felt them-selves defeated in argument had attempted to resort to something like vituperation; secondly, that the arguments of right hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the probable effect of this measure were precisely those which were urged against interference with labour in coal mines and factories—a diminution of wages and so forth—forebodings which hon. Gentlemen from Lancashire and the West Riding well knew had not been realised; and, thirdly, that if the House on principle rejected this Bill, they would assert the impropriety of the principle upon which all anti truck legislation had been founded. The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Biggs) had attributed the distress of these operatives to other causes than the withholding of a great portion of their wages; but surely this must be a most grievous aggravation of their distress. With what justice could the House refuse a second reading to a Bill like this, which was supported by the unanimous prayer of the whole body of the working people whom it affected, by a number of master manufacturers of Leicester (though opposed by a number at Nottingham), by every county Member connected with Leicester, by one of the Members representing the manufacturing industry of Leicester itself, and which its opponents asked the House to reject on prophecies over and over again refuted? The hon. Member (Mr. Biggs) himself no doubt connected with the working people of this country, raised to wealth and power by the labour, the industry, and the sweat of a great portion of those working people, did not think it beneath him to characterise the 20,000 or 30,000 working men of the midland counties, who asked the House to sanction this Bill, as the rabble of the great towns. Whatever might be the hon. Member's opinion of "the Tory country gentlemen," he (Lord J. Manners) hoped there was not a Tory gentleman representing a county constituency who would not blush so to characterise such a body of his fellow countrymen. So far from feeling the taunt thrown out, that the Tory country gentlemen of England sympathised with "the rabble of the great towns," he 1115 should be ashamed of himself if he did not profess, as he had done on all fitting occasions, that he had endeavoured to show, not by words only, but by deeds, that he did sympathise with this "rabble," be they collected in our great hives of industry or scattered through the rural villages. He was not able to say what had been the hon. Member's opportunities of knowing what were the "low vices" of "the rabble of our great towns." But if his language that day tended to knit more closely the bonds of sympathy between the Tory country gentlemen and "the rabble of the great towns," he, for one, should do what he was not now disposed to do—tender his hearty thanks to the hon. Member for that most unwise and illiberal expression.
begged to say, in reference to the noble Lord's statement that if Members voted against this Bill they were opposing themselves to the whole system of truck legislation, that experience of the utter failure of that legislation would induce him to refuse to go on in that suicidal track. The masters could deal with the workmen in these matters more advantageously than strangers, having in their hands that security, the absence of which in the hands of others would lead to a higher charge to protect them against loss. It was chiefly on account of the folly of an attempt, in defiance of experience, to carry further the interference between masters and workmen, that he should vote against the second reading of this Bill.
§ MR. CHEETHAM
said, that you might find distress existing in any employment; the difficulty was how to relieve it; and that House was about the last body to attempt to regulate the details of a business. The particular trade was one which had made slower progress in improvement than most others; but the hosiery trade was now in prosperity. The Bill proposed to prohibit an employer deducting any part of wages for rent. Now, throughout South Lancashire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and a great part of North Cheshire, the cottages in which the workmen lived were built generally with the mill, and the rent was deducted when the wages were paid. That, it was proposed by the Bill not to permit; and it seemed that the employer would not be able to sue for the rent. There was not an employer of labour in the cotton, woollen, silk, or iron trades, who would not be disturbed by the measure, if it passed.
§ COLONEL BLAIR
said, he did not entirely approve of the Bill, but, thinking it a step in the right direction, he would vote with the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Halford).
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, he believed this was one of those questions which were never understood in that House, because the number of practical men in it was very few. No man had done more to benefit the working classes, in every way that he could devise, than he had. [Laughter.] That laugh would not have any effect upon him, because he felt that he had sacrificed a great deal for their benefit, and, whenever it had been a question between them and him, he had always given the turn in favour of the workman. But his opinion was, that the workmen would be disappointed if the Bill passed, because it was quite impossible it could realise the Mover's kind intentions. But, supposing it thrown out, there would be just as much disappointment. It became, then, a question whether the wisest way would not be to send it to a Select Committee for consideration. It was his opinion that the question could not be satisfactorily discussed in the whole House; and if the Bill were pressed to a division, he should therefore be obliged to vote against it.
§ MR. HEYWORTH
said, that, if it were right to prevent the owners of stocking frames from receiving rent for their use, they ought also to take the same course with respect to the proprietors of land—that great machine by which the different articles of agricultural manufacture were produced. Indeed, there were far more stringent reasons for the confiscation of the soil than of machinery, to which the proposition would amount. In truth, it was impossible to meddle either with frame-rent or with wages without giving rise to incalculable mischiefs; but they might in an indirect way benefit the framework knitters—namely, by passing such measures as would tend to alleviate the condition of the working classes generally. They must go on in the glorious course in which they had already made such progress; they must make trade free, and remit indirect taxation. That this would prove the most effectual way of attaining the end sought by the Bill, their past experience would show. When he had visited the framework knitters of Derby, five years ago, he found their position the most deplorable that could be conceived; but their present condition was infinitely better. 1117 Isolated Measures of this kind were worse than useless, for it was impossible to deal with effects the causes of which were unknown or beyond control.
§ SIR HENRY HALFORD
said, he could assure the House that a great many manufacturers were favourable to the Bill, and desired to see it pass, in order that it might put an end to a system of which they were thoroughly ashamed. With regard to the proposition of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) for the suggestion of referring the Bill to a Select Committee, he (Sir H. Halford) should be perfectly ready to agree to it, if the House would consent to the second reading.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 125; Noes 186: Majority 61.
§ Words added; Main Question as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.