§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
said, he thought this was one of those instances in which hon. Gentlemen brought forward Bills which could only impress upon the working classes an idea of injustice being done to them by their employers. No one who read the proceedings of the monster meeting held in Lancashire the day before yesterday, could but regret the absurd opinions expressed there upon the part of the operatives with relation to their real position, and yet he believed the ignorance prevailing in that House was nearly as great as that which existed out of doors. He wished hon. Gentlemen would read the Reports of the different Commissions which had sat in 1812 and in subsequent years, because he thought it was unfair towards the people themselves to persuade them that there was a possibility of enacting laws to provide that which the experience of centuries had shown it was impossible to carry out. The question now before the House was not a new one, and he believed that the first Bill against which he gave a vote was one introduced at a time when everything was being done in Nottingham and other districts to paralyse and destroy the power of the manufacturers. When the excitement in Nottinghamshire among the framework knitters had driven from that district to Honiton one of the largest manufacturers of lace, and almost annihilated the trade, a Bill was introduced by a Committee appointed to inquire into the matter, and, it appeared to him, the House were afraid of refusing their sanction to it. He, therefore, moved that it be referred back to the Committee, and, when that was done, the letters of Captain Ludd were produced in the Committee, threatening death to every manufacturer who dared to oppose the Bill, and destruction to his property. The Committee carefully considered the circumstances connected with the payment of wages, and became thoroughly convinced that any injury done to the masters would be an 819 injury done to the men, and that any interference with the payment of wages would be driving capital away from where it ought to be employed, and instilling most mischievous doctrines into the minds of the labourers, which would induce them to condemn the capitalists as their greatest enemies, whereas, in point of fact, the capitalists were their greatest friends. The reason why England was a flourishing nation compared with Poland and other countries was, that she possessed a large amount of capital, and manufacturers with energy and talent sufficient to employ it properly. When the combination laws were in existence, previous to 1824, workmen had great ground of complaint; but a Committee of that House removed those laws, and left the masters and men at liberty to meet peaceably together and make such arrangements as they thought fit, both as to the hours of working and the rate of wages, everything being left open, fair, and equal between all parties. The consequence was, that an end was put to some 600 or 700 secret societies and trades' unions, and it was only of late that ignorance had renewed the folly of former years. On the 27th of May, 1812, the Committee appointed upon the Framework Knitters' Bill stated, that their attention had been called to the payment of the wages of the men, and they condemned any attempt at interference on the part of Parliament in the regulation of the wages of the operatives. The whole of the parties called before the Committee declared that they had no wish to meddle with the payment of wages; and yet the Bill now before the House was proposed for that very purpose. He hoped Her Majesty's Government would oppose a Bill of such a nature—a Bill attempting the introduction of a principle which had been denounced from the time of Edward III. to the present day, and which it would be utterly impossible to carry out. He would advise hon. Gentlemen to read carefully the report in that day's Times of the meeting to which he had previously referred, and he thought it would show them the danger of interfering between masters and men. No man would go further than he in preventing strikes, for he well knew the injury they inflicted both upon the employers and the employed, as well as upon the country at large. He trusted the House would reject the Bill, and he gave it his most cordial opposition.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
said, he would now move the Amendment of which he had given notice. He thought it would be a 820 very singular course for the House to pursue to legislate upon a subject upon preconceived notions, without having any evidence before them of the working of the laws now existing. The last Truck Act, the one proposed to be amended by this Bill, was passed in the 1 & 2 ofWill. IV. In about ten years after the passing of that Act, complaints were made that the evils of the truck system still continued, and of the insufficiency of that Act of Parliament to prevent those evils, and a Committee was appointed by the House for the purpose of inquiring into the matter. Did that Committee come to any result? Did they take any measures that would, in the least degree, justify the introduction of a Bill of this kind? Far from it. From the Report of Mr. Tremenheere it appeared that the Committee could not make up their minds as to any change to be made or any new legislation to be introduced, and the resolution they came to was simply to publish the evidence and the Report. Twelve years had now elapsed since that Committee sat, during which there had been a complete change in the commercial system of the country, and the House had endeavoured to introduce, as far as possible, the principle of free trade. In addition, the state of the labour market had been greatly altered by the opening out of our colonies and of the gold-fields, and, after such great changes in our commercial and social system, was it to be assumed that the evils formerly complained of were still in existence? But even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those evils were still felt, were there not means of repelling them other than by the stringent list of penalties now proposed to be enacted? If interference was deemed unadvisable when it was found that wages did not rise in proportion to the price of food, were they to start with the assumption—admitting, as the preamble of this Bill did, that the Truck Act had been utterly insufficient—that the only way to make that Act efficient was to inflict more forcible and stringent penalties? He contended that the House ought to act only after due deliberation, and that they ought to have clear and full evidence before them that the means proposed by this Bill were the only means of remedying an evil which he, for one, did not intend to deny existed. On the other hand, he considered the Truck Act of 1831 a piece of one-sided legislation, for he found from an abstract of it which he held in his hand, and which had been prepared under the direction of the 821 Statute Law Commissioners, who were actually engaged in consolidating all the laws relating to masters and workmen, that domestic servants or servants in husbandry, as well as a large body of artificers, were specially excluded from its provisions. Why, if the measure was a good one, should it not have been universal? If a Truck Bill was good as against iron masters, why was it not good as against agriculturists, builders, and artisans? Mr. Tremenheere said:—No doubt many of the evils of the truck system may be traced to the extension of the period for the payment of wages, which are paid once a fortnight, once a month, once in three months, and even once in six months.But did Mr. Tremenheere recommend legislation to compel the payment of wages weekly? No, he said it was beyond the power of legislation. He (Mr. Craufurd) contended that no legislation in this direction would put an end to the present evils. They had evasions, and they would have evasions, and he defied any lawyer whatever to draw any Bill which was contrary to the interest of those who were to be affected by it, that would not in some degree be evaded. A legislation that was insufficient in itself to meet the ends for which it was intended created a sort of immorality and an evasion of the law which were worse than the evils against which that legislation was directed. He felt that the proper course to pursue was to leave it to the parties themselves to make their own contracts, and let the law step in and punish those by whom such contracts were infringed. But to step in and say, "You shall pay a man in this coin or in that," was a great mistake. In the first place, what was the nature of coin itself? It was merely the representative of labour, and in some cases it might be more important to the labourer to be paid in kind rather than in money. The House admitted the principle that it was wrong to interfere between the employer and the employed, and yet they were called upon to legislate upon a branch of the question, because it was found that in some cases the truck system had been wrongfully applied. He contended that the question of the Truck Act was not the only question they ought to consider. The existing laws between masters and workmen were in a singular and improper condition, and required a thorough review and amendment, but the House ought not to touch one part alone until they could do something that would 822 affect the whole matter. He did not deny the existence of the evils which had been complained of, but he disputed the means by which it was proposed to remove them. All he asked from the House was, not absolutely to reject the Bill of the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. C. Forster), but to inquire into the operation of the laws affecting the relations of masters and workmen before they assented to it.
§ MR. HEYWORTH
said, he willingly seconded the Amendment. He thought it incumbent upon the House, before affirming the principles of the Bill, to become perfectly acquainted with the laws regulating labour. Hitherto, he believed, the House had gone greatly astray with regard to these laws. The amount of wages altogether depended upon the amount of labour employed; when employment was plentiful the wages paid increased, but when employment became scarce, wages, as a necessary consequence, fell. The best mode of raising wages would be by removing, as much as possible, indirect taxation. If the Customs and Excise duties were further remitted, the result would be such a stimulus to employment as would be unparalleled. It was useless to attempt by legislation to raise wages to an arbitrary rate. The only real remedy for the evil complained of was to promote the independence of the men by improving their means of employment.
To leave out from the word That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words before any further legislation on the subject of the payment of Wages be sanctioned by this House, a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Laws affecting the relations of Masters and Workmen, and to report whether any and what amendment may be requisite in those Laws,'—instead thereof.
§ MR. DRUMMOND
Sir, the hon. Member who has just sat down has treated the question as one of determining the rate of wages. That, Sir, is not the object of the Bill, nor has it any connection, direct or indirect, with such an object. And either the hon. Member is totally ignorant of the nature of the Bill, or he has intentionally diverted the mind of the House to a totally different subject. Sir, the mass of helpless labourers—[An Hon. Member: Not helpless.] The hon. Member says, "Not helpless." Sir, I repeat, the mass of helpless labourers in the manufacturing districts declare that they are defrauded by their masters. ["No, no!"] I repeat, they declare they are defrauded by their mas- 823 ters, and they come to this House to ask for redress. And the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) himself showed that the necessity for protecting helpless labourers from the oppression of their employers had for a long course of years been recognised by Parliament, and various laws, ever since the time of Edward III., have been passed for the purpose of protecting the labourers. Now, Sir, I do not know of what use law is but to protect the weak. Nobody wants laws to protect the strong. These poor men say they are weak—they say they are defrauded; and then hon. Members assert that they are bad political economists, and do not understand the "rate of wages question." Sir, this truck system is a means of fraud—defrauding the men of a portion of their fair earnings. It is said that this is a bad time for such a measure, because the men are in rebellion against their masters. Sir, that may be a good reason for abstaining from language calculated to excite one class against the other; but it is also a reason why we should let the men understand that there are those in this House who will resist the masters when the masters are their oppressors, and who will endeavour to obtain for the men a fair measure of protection. Sir, I should like to ask some of the hon. Members who oppose this Bill, if they knew of any instance of a country gentleman having a shop on his estate, and refusing to employ any one who did not resort to that shop; how very different their language would be. Sir, the men have been excited by no persons more than by the gentlemen of the manufacturing interest themselves. I find the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) saying, that "it is the industrial people who carry the aristocracy on their backs." Sir, that is all very well in a Manchester committee-room, but how is it translated at Preston? The men say there that they have had to carry the manufacturers upon their backs, and that they will carry them no longer. The men apply the doctrine to their own purposes, and hon. Members of the Manchester school have no right to blame them for doing so. Then another Gentleman, the hon. Member for Leicester (Sir J. Walmsley), I find speaking thus:—The time will come when every man shall stand or fall by his own will. If the working classes will aid the middle classes in earnest, the upper classes shall be soon made to tremble; fall they must, for they are rotten at the core.Sir, the labourers interpret this, also, in 824 their own way, and they say that the "aristocracy" to them are the rich manufacturers, and that it is they who are "rotten at the core." [Sir J. WALMSLEY interrupted with some observation.] I copied this from a speech made by the hon. Member for Leicester as President of the Reform What-do-you-call-it—they have odd names—[An hon. Member suggested "Financial Reform Association "]—yes, as President of the Financial, or something or other of that kind, at Aberdeen. These gentlemen have excited the working people against the higher classes, and, intending to shoot the pigeon, they have hit the crow. It is said that we have started on a free-trade policy, and that it is contrary to the policy of free trade to interfere with the truck system. Now, is that free trade? Why, what is the truck system? It is free trade with masters for the robbery of the men! Then it is said it is of no use passing laws to prevent it, for the masters will evade them; it is the interest, it is said, of the roasters to cheat the men, and cheat them they will, do what we may. Now the meaning of this is—that we shall see whether the rogues or this House are the strongest. It might as well be said—why pass laws against stealing; men will continue to steal. I do not doubt that the manufacturers will evade the law, which is the very reason for increasing the penalties, so that they may find breaking the law a losing game. An hon. Member says the remedy for the evil is to be found in the independence of the working men, and that if they are asked to deal at a truck shop they may refuse. Yes, and be discharged. Why, can any man be so ignorant as not to know that the lower classes are wholly dependent upon their employers—from day to day dependent upon their will? For one workman who is independent of his master, there are a thousand who are not so, and cannot refuse to deal at the master's shop. Sir, if the Committee which has been proposed as an Amendment were honestly designed to promote the end we have in view, I would not object to it; but my belief is, that it is proposed for no such purpose, but to defeat and baffle the men. It was a master-manufacturer's Amendment, and I will vote for this or any other measure which will give to the men the redress of which they say—and they are the best judges on that point—they stand in need of.
§ SIR JOSHUA WALMSLEY
said, he had no recollection of having said what 825 the hon. Member for West Surrey attributed to him; but if it were so, it had reference to a totally different subject, and he must beg to tell the House that, so far from having an objection to legislation on this subject, his name was on the back of a Bill to provide that the payment of wages should be made in coin, and which would come before the House next Wednesday. He quite concurred in the observations that had been made, that great abuses existed and had existed for many years past, and he was anxious that those abuses should be prevented. He spoke now of the Bill before the House. His hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) appeared to have mixed up the two Bills together. He had great respect for that hon. Gentleman's opinion at all times; he believed that no man desired to act more favourably to the working classes, but it appeared to him that the result of the Report of the Committee which the hon. Gentleman had read was quite opposite to that which the hon. Gentleman supposed. The Report of the Committee was to the effect—That the attention of the Committee was called to the desirability of preventing the workmen in this manufacture (the hosiery trade) being paid in goods instead of money. This is no matter of opinion, because there can be but one opinion on the subject. This mode of payment was prohibited so long ago as the reign of Edward IV., and there are Acts of Parliament passed in the reigns of George I. and George II., which expressly say that men shall be paid in money, and not in goods by way of truck.The Committee went on to say that—It is in evidence this practice prevails in some villages, but no evidence has been given before the Committee that any of the respectable houses in Nottingham have adopted it; and, indeed, it seems to be principally adopted by what they call bag hosiers, or persons not bred to the trade.That Report showed that, if they had legislated at that time, the practice would not have increased to the extent that it had. Political economy had been pressed into the question. Now, political economy was not a one-sided question, and where there was oppression on the workmen, they ought to interfere. He hoped they would interfere. He believed it to be in accordance with political economy, and in strict accordance with the principles of free trade, that the masters should not be permitted to oppress the workmen, by taking from them half of their well-earned wages in the shape of rent or charges; and if hon. Gentlemen would deal with this question in a spirit of fairness and justice, as far 826 as his experience went, the workmen were always willing to act in the same spirit. He was sorry to say there was a feeling now rising up between masters and workmen of the very worst description, and if that House could, by listening to the reasonable complaints of the workmen, lessen that spirit, they would do a very great deal to promote harmony, and the interests of trade and commerce in this country.
§ MR. BOOKER
said, he was of opinion that further legislation on this subject was absolutely necessary. As an employer of labour to a considerable extent, he believed the truck system to be an abominable system, which the strong arm of the law must put down. He was most desirous that it should be put down, for the sake of the labourer, as well as for the sake of the employer, for it was most mischievous and injurious to both. He would take the case of the man who paid 100,000l. a year in wages, which happened to be pretty much his own case; if he could retain out of that fifteen or twenty per cent in the shape of profits from the truck system, what did he care for the competition of the legitimate trader? Then with respect to the workmen—a case had occurred lately in which a father and his three sons had applied to him for employment, and had assigned to him as their reason for so doing that the establishment at which they had been working was one in which the truck system prevailed—that their joint earnings being nearly 10l. per week, it was impossible for them to consume the articles in which their wages were paid, and equally impossible for them to put by anything for a rainy day, to join a club or benefit society, or to make provision for sickness or old age, or for any of those reverses to which all parties were more or less liable. He was aware that the changes which had been made in our commercial system, in the combination laws, and in many other matters, within the last few years, might interpose some difficulties in the way of applying a legislative remedy, but he thought that some means might surely be found to remedy the present complaints. The truck system was vicious in principle and bad in its operation, and it was the duty of Parliament to devise some plan by which the workman, on the one hand, and the honest employer of labour, on the other, might be protected.
§ MR.H. A. BRUCE
said, he would not object to the Amendment, if he thought that it had been proposed with the view of 827 ensuring a full consideration of this most important question. He believed, however, that the inquiry which was proposed was far too extensive to be efficiently dealt with by a Committee in the course of the present Session; and that the object of proposing the Amendment was to defeat inquiry altogether. For that reason he should support the second reading of the Bill. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), that this measure would be likely to increase angry feelings between the employer and the employed. His wish, in supporting it, was to allay angry feeling, for he had seen the worst results from the existence of that state of things which the Bill was designed to remedy. He had that day presented a petition from a district of Glamorganshire, in which it was stated that 1,500 workmen had struck work, suspending all the operations of the ironworks to which they belonged for seven weeks in a struggle to prevent the introduction of the truck system. How could the masters and workmen settle these things among themselves, without bringing upon the country those very evils which the hon. Gentleman so strongly deprecated? What weapon had the workman with which to protect him self, except the fatal one of a strike? He had himself been witness of the evils resulting from strikes, and of the bitterness of spirit engendered by them, and it was his belief that many of those evils might be remedied by the Legislature. He therefore supported this Bill as a milder remedy for the mischief which was brought by the truck system upon the working classes in the districts where it prevailed. Its object was simply to carry out the spirit of the former Act, which it was notorious had been in many cases violated. That Act provided that all contracts made for the payment of wages in goods should be void; but he knew, from his own experience and observation, that it was extremely difficult, from the manner in which the arrangements between masters and workmen were made, to get legal evidence of a contract such as would satisfy the requirements of the Statute, and it was therefore proposed by the present Bill to enact that the payment of wages in goods should in itself be evidence of a contract. There was thus, as he contended, no violation whatever of the spirit of the former Act; for, whereas the object of that Act was to secure payment in money instead of goods, this Bill declared that the payment in goods should 828 be punishable. Another defect in the present law was the inadequacy of the punishment, taking into consideration the wealth and position of the parties who were generally the offenders. It was proposed to remedy this by doubling the penalty for the first offence—at present not less than 5l., nor more than 10l.—and to make the second offence a misdemeanor, and the penalty 100l. Even this amount was not large for men who were making their hundreds, or, perhaps, their thousands a year by continuing the truck system; but the value of the change would consist in making the offence a misdemeanor, and in bringing the offender to a public trial. He believed that this publicity would have a very salutary effect, and that many would be deterred by the fear of it from persisting in a course which no other influence had proved strong enough to induce them to give up. In Merthyr Tydvil and the neighbourhood some informations had been laid under the existing Act soon after it had passed, and the result had been that the masters had refused to submit to the degradation of public prosecution and punishment, and the system had been abandoned and had never since been resumed. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had said, twenty years ago, when that Act was passed, that there were two hon. Members connected with South Wales who were prepared to state that the measure was likely to produce ruin in their districts. How had that prophecy been fulfilled? The population of Merthyr Tydvil had increased since then from 22,083 to 46,382; and the make of iron from 71,460 tons to 210,000, and this notwithstanding that the truck system had been abandoned. The hon. Member for Montrose had said, at the same time, that in his opinion the system rather tended to improve the condition of the labourer; but he (Mr. Bruce) could undertake to state to the House, from his own knowledge, as well as from general information, that there was a vast difference between the condition of the workman in those districts in which the truck system prevailed and those in which it did not exist, and that it was all in favour of the latter. He did not mean to say that this was the case wherever the master kept a shop. He knew that there were some masters who sold their goods at a fair and reasonable price, but the power of paying wages through a variable medium was a dangerous one to be given to any 829 man. There was no law regulating the amount of interest upon money invested in trade, and when times were bad, and the legitimate profits of the master's business small, the temptation was strong to use the power in his hands to extract from the workmen a larger amount of profit than he would be otherwise enabled to do. A gentleman who was most minutely acquainted with the condition of the iron districts of Wales, but whose name, because it might be injurious to him to mention it, he felt bound to withhold, had written to him thus upon the subject:—The evil results from the truck system have not been confined to the positive pecuniary loss which is entailed by their being often compelled to purchase the most inferior goods at prices considerably above the fair market value, but have a much wider and more baneful influence, discouraging, as they do, the efforts of the working man to economise the proceeds of his labour, or to provide by prudent savings for a time of adversity or old age. It has also always appeared to me that drunkenness and depravity prevailed to a greater extent at those works where the truck system was in full operation than where it did not exist.It was contended sometimes that the truck system prevented drunkenness, by defending the workman himself; but the fact was, that by the payment of u wages in goods the workman was deprived of those means of extending his general intelligence, of sharpening his faculties, and exercising his judgment, which resulted from the free expenditure of his own money by himself. For every cottage built by a working man in those districts of Wales where the truck system prevailed, there were ten built by the same class in the districts where it did not prevail. He should cordially support the second reading of the Bill, being convinced that it provided against all those evasions which had hitherto been practised, although he would not say it provided against all that the acuteness of self-interest might devise.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he thought he detected some inconsistency in the course taken by the hon. Member for Herefordshire (Mr. Booker), who had avowed himself much opposed to the truck system—to the keeping of a shop to which every man should be compelled to go. The hon. Member in that House, as long as he (Mr. Bright) could remember, had always been in favour of a great national "truck shop," and had made many speeches in his hearing, in which he had advocated that the 27,000,000 of people of this country should go to the shop of the Here- 830 fordshire farmer—that he should not go out of this country, or off the premises of the landed proprietors of England, for the purchase of the necessaries of life. He admitted the hon. Member to be an authority as to the facts taking place in his district, but he did not admit him to be at all a better judge, on that account, of the course which the Legislature ought to take. He understood it to be admitted that all that had hitherto been done by the Legislature in the direction contemplated by this Bill had resulted in failure—
§ MR. BRIGHT
Then if it was successful in Glamorganshire, he could not see why they should require a new Act for Staffordshire and Monmouthshire. The general opinion, however, was that past legislation on this subject had been a failure. It was now proposed to make the law more severe. The second offence was to be a misdemeanor, and no shop was to be allowed so contiguous to the works as to be a portion of the premises. Informers, too, were to be let loose throughout these districts, for the purpose, he supposed, of perfecting that great harmony which the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond) was so anxious to see established between the employer and the employed. Hon. Gentlemen spoke of iron-masters and large employers making vast profits; but unless the iron and other trades were in a most deplorable condition, the profit to be obtained from keeping those shops could be of very little importance to the employer, and it was far more likely that one large shop would be able to supply goods cheaply than twenty small shops would. But he would not stop to argue that question, because he was quite sure that, under the present condition of labour in this country, there could be no permanent, continuous, irritating tyranny, such as had been described by the promoters of this Bill, which the working classes themselves were not perfectly well able to correct without coming to the House of Commons for a new measure. But with reference to the practical working of this Bill, there were difficulties which he was quite sure the House could not fail to see. Suppose a man chose to say that in a certain shop goods were sold to workmen, and that he had reason to believe the employer had a concealed interest in it—for 831 the Bill prohibited all interest, direct or indirect—he should like to know what they were going to do, or how an investigation into matters of that kind was to be carried on. As to breaking down a system which the employers found in some cases profitable, and in other cases convenient, they could no more do it by Act of Parliament than they had been able to do it by Act of Parliament heretofore. But what was the amount of the grievance? It applied principally, as he understood, to Staffordshire and Monmouthshire; for in Lancashire and Yorkshire, where a vast amount of labour was employed, and employed in large masses, complaints of the working of the truck system were scarcely ever heard. If that were so, it was not the law which allowed truck shops in the one case, and prevented them in the other—it was something different in the moral, social, and intellectual condition of the workman and employer—that was, supposing it to be a real, existible, tangible grievance, which, as a general rule, he denied. But supposing the grievance to exist, bow were they to proceed to deal with it by law, seeing that they had a law already which in Glamorganshire had proved sufficient to put it down, and that in Lancashire and Yorkshire it did not exist at all. The hon. Member for West Surrey had spoken of the turn-outs, and observed they should do all they could to allay any animosity existing between the employers and the employed. But the hon. Member, who was very paradoxical in the speeches which he delivered in that House, had complained of persons stirring up enmities amongst people, in a speech which tended as much in that direction as it was possible for any speech to do. He had referred to the war going on between the operatives and the employers in Lancashire. Well, all this turn-out in Lancashire, which had been greatly magnified in the London papers, had its favourable as well as its unfavourable side. It showed, at all events, that the operatives were free to meet, to speak, to act, to organise for what they believed to be their rights; and, however mistaken they might be—and he believed that in this instance they were mistaken—consolation was to be derived from the fact that they had shown themselves able to fight their own battle, and to fight it so far, without breaking the law of the State. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. H. A. Bruce) assumed that there was a difference in the social condition of the 832 population in those places where the system did exist and where it did not [Mr. BOOKER: Hear, hear], and the hon. Member for Herefordshire cheered the sentiment; but he would ask whether it might not with equal truth be said that the population in places where there were such shops was quite as well off as in those districts where they did not exist? Indeed, in some cases, he believed, a positive benefit resulted from the employer providing such a convenience; and although the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil had said it was a dangerous thing to trust so much power to one man as that involved in the supplying of 3,000 or 4,000 persons with food, he might reply that it was equally an evil that one man should employ so many; but it was an evil resulting from necessity; for where large operations were to be carried on, and much capital was to be employed, as in the case of manufactories or ironworks, large numbers of persons must be employed under individuals, and the very fact of the employment rendered them susceptible to his influence, both moral, social, and political. He was willing to admit that in a Welsh valley, where, in so large a tract of land as four or five miles, having several villages in it, most of the labouring population were under the control of one master, he might make such a shop an instrument of oppression; but if he had no shop, he might bring his influence to bear by his general treatment in an equally harsh manner, and that was an evil which could be corrected only by public opinion and by his own sense of what was due to his workmen, and all attempts to do that by Act of Parliament which could only be done by calling into existence principles infinitely beyond Acts of Parliament would prove vain; and he thought the attempt to remedy this evil by legislation drew people from the contemplation of the true means of remedying it. The object of the Bill was to shut up the shops now allowed on the premises of the employers, so that, in some cases in Wales, the effect would be, that people might have five miles to walk to get things. Why should not an iron-master be allowed to keep a shop? Was there any reason on earth why small shopkeepers, who were no more honest, should have the privilege of carrying on business, undisturbed by the competition of larger capital, which might afford facilities for cheapness they did not possess? He objected to this Bill, because he believed it 833 was founded on wrong principles, and drew the attention of the working classes from the contemplation of the true means of alleviating their condition; and he considered it extremely undesirable for Parliament again to stir in this question after making so many failures, and at a time when the working population of the country were, in comparison with their employers, more powerful and better organised than they had ever been before. He should therefore give his vote most cordially against the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. C. FORSTER,
in reply, said, as far as he collected from the speech of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), he objected to the measure because it sought to interfere with the mode of paying wages; but, in justification of such a course, he could quote an authority which had always been greatly regarded in that House, and that was Mr. Huskisson, who, speaking on this subject, said it was the duty of every State to ensure the fulfilment of contracts in the sense in which those contracts had been made. It was the argument of the promoters of this measure that, in consequence of the existence of the truck system, contracts were not fulfilled in the sense in which they had been entered into, and that, in point of fact, the profit which arose out of the truck shop to the proprietor was a detriment to the wages, for he could appeal confidently to any hon. Gentleman who heard the facts brought forward on the last occasion to say whether they did not show a state of fraud and oppression clearly calling for the interference of Parliament. Some cases had been relied upon to show that the truck system was really a benefit. He did not deny that there were many exceptions to the general rule; and one of the most honourable was, he was glad to say, to be found in the person of the late Sir Josiah Guest, who had conducted one of these establishments on principles so liberal as to cause great regret when it was abandoned. But in the great majority of cases, truck shops existed under circumstances very differen from those in the midst of populous towns and where, if they did not exist, retail dealers would be able to supply the workmen far better—dealers who had incurred the risk and expense of establishing themselves in business, and whose custom was unfairly diverted from them by this illegal system. Some instances of that kind had been given in Mr. Tremenheere's 834 Report, where, from such causes, 4,000l. to 5,000l. per annum was lost to the retail dealers. This, however, was essentially a workman's question, although, perhaps, the retail dealers might have some reason to complain of a system in which both themselves and the workmen suffered in common. But there was another class of persons affected by the system, and that was the money-paying employer, who, not having any return through truck shops, was put to a disadvantage in competing with the manufacturer who adopted the system, and this had been so sensibly felt in Staffordshire, that manufacturers had said that, though opposed to the system, they would be obliged to have recourse to it. In asking for the second reading of the present Bill, he was not asking for any new principle, for the present measure was in strict accordance with all former legislation on the subject. He had rejected many plausible suggestions because they differed in principle from the Act of 1831, and all his wish was to see the spirit of that Act carried out to its full extent. With regard to the Amendment which had been moved by the hon. and learned Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) he hoped they would not delay the matter for another year, and thus entail much disappointment after the delay the question had already experienced, for he was persuaded that the Parliament of 1854 was no less sensible of the evil complained of, and no less anxious to repress it, than the Parliament of 1831 had been, and he therefore asked them not to disappoint the hopes of those whose petitions had been read at the table, and who petitioned the House in the full confidence that they would obtain justice and redress. On these grounds he asked the House to assent to the second reading of the Bill, in order that the matter might afterwards be referred to a Select Committee, when all the principles involved might undergo a thorough examination, so that, in the course of the present Session, after obtaining the fullest information, they might come to a settlement of the question in a manner which would entitle them to the gratitude of the working classes, who, as the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) had said, formed so important an element in the strength and stability of the country.
said that, representing as he did a purely agricultural borough, he did not consider that he was strictly called upon to take part in this discussion, 835 and yet he was anxious in a few words to I explain the reasons which would influence his vote. He objected to this Bill on three grounds: first, because he believed it to be unsound in principle; secondly, because it was unnecessary as a matter of justice; and, lastly, because he felt quite certain that it would prove inoperative for the purposes for which it was designed. He was not unaware of the critical state of the relations now existing between the employers and employed in the manufacturing districts, and should be happy to find those relations placed on a better footing. He confessed, however, that when the House of Commons undertook to carry legislation and Parliamentary interference on this subject further than it had been already carried, it was committing itself to a very difficult, a dangerous, and delicate course. But, in saying this, he did not for a moment mean to state that, after their experience of the last few years, no cases would occur in which such interference was not justifiable; at the same time it must be always borne in mind that all such legislative interference ought to be exceptional. It seemed to him that the endeavour throughout the discussion had been to show that the employed were entirely in the hands of the employers; now, he believed that the occurrences lately witnessed in Lancashire fully disproved any such conclusion. And if that was the case at present, as times advanced be felt quite sure it would be less so still. For no one could avoid observing that the general course of things during the last few years had been to increase the value of labour, and the consequent effect had been to elevate the position and increase the independency of the labourer. He had already given it as his opinion that the Bill would be likely to prove inoperative. It consisted mainly of two provisions, the second of which declared that for the future it would be unlawful to have shops attached to the buildings wherein the works were carried on. Now, either the House was of opinion that the operative was in the power of the employer, or that he was not. The former assumption he (Lord Stanley) believed to be an entirely erroneous one; but, supposing he was wrong, he was still quite certain that the provision in question would do nothing to remove the labourer from such a position. Again, it seemed to him to be invariably assumed that the fact of the employer maintaining shops for the use of his labourers was a direct or in- 836 direct injustice to the employed; he was quite aware such at least was the common opinion, it being assumed that the master necessarily made a gain out of such establishments. Well, perhaps he did; but it did not at all follow that what was gained to the master was lost to the employed. They had heard much of the profits which were made by the small trader. No doubt those profits were very large; in many instances they were exorbitant, but he did not think that in any case it had been made out, where concerns of the kind alluded to in this Bill were under the control of the master, that the profits derived from the labourer were greater than when he was free to go where he might choose. Looking, however, at the case as a whole, he must say that there was a great deal of injustice in applying such legislation as the present solely to the case of the manufacturer. He, of course, was perfectly ready to admit the great social influence which a manufacturer possessed over the operative population around him; but he was not aware that that power was necessarily greater than that which a landlord possessed over his tenant, especially where that tenant held only a small farm, or was a man of but limited capital—and he might be allowed to add, that of his own personal knowledge he could state, that in many parts of England it had been the practice for landlords to provide for the convenience of their smaller tenantry by the establishment of beer-shops. Now, that was a practice which had never been complained of, and though of course, as in the case of the manufacturer, it was one liable to abuse, still he believed that in neither case had that abuse prevailed to any great extent. He should certainly, then, offer his determined opposition to the Bill of the hon. Gentleman, believing that, if carried into effect, it would be productive of very great hardships. He, therefore, trusted that the House would reject it.
said, he believed that the present title of the Bill was a complete misnomer, and that it ought to be entitled a Bill for the protection of shopkeepers, much rather than of artificers. He felt perfectly satisfied that, if a Committee were granted, and there were a full inquiry, it would be completely demonstrated that in most of the districts where these shops had been established, there had been, as a consequence, a constant and large decrease in the price of the articles 837 of consumption generally used by the population. He did not believe that there was among the employed anything like the general feeling of hostility to these shops which hon. Gentlemen seemed to assume, nor could he see why there should be, inasmuch as the goods sold at them were better than those sold by little tradesmen at shops conducted on a different system. It was worthy of observation, also, that not more than two petitions had been presented in favour of the Bill. If the working classes were opposed to the present system, why had they not petitioned the House against it?—which they would infallibly have done, had they considered that it injuriously affected their interests. He must say he could have but little confidence in a measure, the promoters of which were unwilling to have its merits tested before a Select Committee, as was the ease with the Bill now before the House. It was his firm conviction that the House had been called upon to legislate rather against than for the interests of the operative classes.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, that there was a very considerable population in the mining districts of Scotland, as deeply interested in the prosecution of the measure before the House, as were the working classes in Staffordshire or Wales. As he understood it, the object of the Bill was to put a stop to some, at least, of the modes in which the existing law was evaded, for there could be no doubt that in particular districts, in England as well as in Scotland, the evasions in question had been the sources of the greatest ill-will and heart-burnings between employers and employed. For the operatives said, and said with great reason, "there was a law upon the Statute-book which declared that wages should always be paid in money, and never in goods, and yet you will not so frame your enactment as to carry out your intention, and remedy the evil which it was acknowledged existed." Mr. Tremenheere stated that through the working of this truck system seven per cent was put into the pocket of the master, and therefore every mine-owner who evaded the law was getting that advantage at the expense of those who endeavoured to keep the law. But because the law was evaded, were they to proclaim themselves incompetent to deal with the subject, and to prevent fraud? The noble Lord the Member for Lynn Regis (Lord Stanley) and the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) seemed to 838 consider that, because the evils complained of had no existence in Lancashire, they were not to be dealt with. Now, he might here observe, that it had often struck him that, in the view of the hon. Member for Manchester, all England and Scotland was comprised in Lancashire, and, therefore, what was good for that county he reckons to be good for the whole of England and Scotland.
§ MR. BRIGHT
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would be pleased to recollect that he (Mr. Bright) had included Yorkshire also in his observations, and that then they had a much more populous division of the country than the two districts alluded to on the other side.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
Well, he must include Yorkshire in describing the theory of the hon. Gentleman, and then they would have a district for which, if legislation was not required, it could not possibly be required for any other part of the country. That, however, was not his conclusion; he believed rather that the plaster ought to fit the sore, and that wherever an evil was found to exist, there the remedy ought to be applied. Although the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Ayrshire (Mr. Craufurd) embraced an inquiry on which he (Mr. Bouverie) was by no means unwilling to enter—namely, into the relations between employers and the employed—still that hon. and learned Gentleman should bear in mind that all the present Bill endeavoured to attain was to prevent violations of the existing law; and with that view of the case he was prepared to give the measure his cordial support.
§ MR. PACKE
said, he perfectly agreed in the observations of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) had commenced his speech by mounting once again a very old hobby of his, and had gone out of his way, and had diverted the attention of the House from the subject under consideration, to attack an hon. Friend of his, the Member for Herefordshire (Mr. Booker), who had been, as all would acknowledge, for many years the consistent advocate of the rights of native industry in this country. A great part, however, of the hon. Gentleman's speech was taken up with a denial that any evil existed at all. Now, even the hon. and learned Gentleman the mover of the Amendment did not deny that there were very serious evils to be complained of; at the same time, however, it would be imagined from the 839 nature of that Amendment that the Bill now before the House contained some new principle, and that the Select Committee would have to inquire into some subjects on which a general ignorance prevailed. But he might be allowed to invite the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Craufurd) to the fact, that twenty years ago an Act had been passed prohibiting certain traders from paying wages otherwise than in the current coin of the realm. For himself, he could affirm that he had most attentively read the Bill, and he was therefore able to state that its simple object was to prevent the evasion of the former Act of Parliament, so that a labouring man might obtain a fair day's wages for a fair day's work. He would therefore most cordially support the second reading of the Bill.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
said, he merely rose in consequence of some observations which had fallen from the hon. Member for Ashburton (Mr. Moffatt), in endeavouring to throw some doubt on the statement of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. H. A. Bruce), than whom, from his own personal knowledge of that hon. Gentleman, he (Sir B. Hall) could state there was no one, either in that House or out of it, more capable of giving an opinion as to the working of the present law, or the condition of the operatives in the country surrounding Merthyr Tydvil. Nor did he imagine that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Moffatt) could be as well acquainted with the locality in question as he himself might be. It was not, perhaps, too much for him to say that he had been connected with that county, both by property and residence, ever since his birth, and, therefore, he might very safely assure the hon. Gentleman that if he was inclined to go down there, on his arrival he would find that the evils complained of in that House, both now and on former occasions, existed there to the fullest possible extent; and he might be allowed to add, that, although some of the larger collieries had been accused of carrying out the truck system in its very worst form, that was not quite the case, for it was carried out to an extent much more pernicious and vexatious in the case of the smaller ones. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), and other hon. Gentlemen who shared in his views, had, however, assumed a very high tone—the tone, perhaps, of certain philosophers, who found it rather difficult to reduce their conclusions to practice; and would have 840 the world to believe that it was extremely hard, extremely tyrannical, in the House of Commons to interfere between the employer and the employed. He believed, however, that it was their duty so to interfere when they discovered cases of oppression which could only be met by legislation, and he could state fearlessly and without the slightest dread of contradiction, that he did know that in those counties with which he was connected by property—he meant the counties of Monmouth and Glamorgan—the greatest dissatisfaction prevailed amongst the workmen in mines and collieries, and that in consequence of the vexatious and oppressive conduct of some of the larger as well as the smaller employers. He believed the proposition to refer the Bill for consideration before a Select Committee was a perfectly fair one, and one well worthy of the attention of hon. Members; for he believed that even if they went no further with the Bill, it would prove to the working classes of the country that the House of Commons would not be prevented from taking up their cause through any philosophic or economic notions that it might please hon. Gentlemen to vent.
said, he wished to let the House know that his authority for his statement on the subject of the Welsh colliers and miners was the present High Sheriff for the county of Monmouth.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he could not entirely concur in the opinion expressed by the hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall), as to the course which the House was called upon to take with respect to this Bill. It appeared to him that the question had assumed a different shape since the present debate had commenced—it had seemed to him that the question, on the one hand, was as to the second reading of the Bill, and, on the other, whether they ought not rather adopt the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd), and agree that a preliminary inquiry ought first to take place? Now, as to the two issues, it struck him that there could not be much doubt which to choose, for he believed that already the subject had been amply considered. In 1842, a Committee of that House had sat, and received a great mass of evidence, but, having received that evidence, they felt themselves unable to offer any further remedy for the grievance complained of. In 1851, when he had the honour of holding the office of Secretary 841 of State, very strong and numerous representations were made to him, chiefly from the county of Stafford, complaining of the violation of the Truck Act, and of the insufficiency of the Act to remedy the evil. At that time, too, he had an interview with a number of persons from that district of the country; and he confessed he was not led, from the information he received from them, to anticipate any benefits from the then proposed amendment of the law. It appeared to his informants that adequate provision was not made for enforcing the existing Act, and on his (Sir G. Grey) taxing them with not availing themselves of the protection of that Act, they answered, that their position relative to the masters was such, that if they attempted to do so they would lose their employment. Well, then, he asked, in that case, what was the use of a more stringent Act, when they urged that there were defects in the "Act itself; and it appeared to them that Parliament having sanctioned the principle of the Truck Act, it was a fair subject for further inquiry whether those defects or omissions were such as Parliament could remedy, in order to carry out its own intentions." On that he assured them he would undertake to institute some inquiries, and accordingly he asked Mr. Tremenheere, not wishing to institute a formal inquiry, to examine respecting three points—1, as to the magnitude of the evil still remaining; 2, as to whether the continuance of that evil arose from a defect in the law, or from the indisposition or inability of persons to enforce the law; and, 3, whether any amendment of the law could be beneficially made. A Report was therefore presented to him by that gentleman, and to which allusion had already been made, stating that though the evils complained of did exist to a considerable extent, yet at the same time it was to be most distinctly understood that the Truck Act had done very great good, and had been productive of very great benefit, in preventing employers establishing a set off against the payment of money in the delivery of goods. With regard to the third point, he was equally certain that the Act might be amended. When, however, the House came to look into the recommendations which Mr. Tremenheere had sent in they would find that the only one of any importance had been embodied in the present Bill. No provision had been made to guard against collusive payments taking place, and therefore a remedy against any such practice would be found 842 embodied in the first clause of the measure of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Forster). But with regard to the second clause of the Bill, which prohibited any shop being maintained on the premises, he felt necessitated, on the part of Mr. Tremenheere, to say that such a provision formed no part of his recommendations, and that he most distinctly disavowed any suggestion of the kind. As to the other provisions of the Bill, they were very trifling, and two of them were founded upon the Report of Mr. Tremenheere. One of them named the period of three months within which informations against infringements of the Act should be laid, but which seemed to him to be objectionable, as he thought that all such informations should be laid at the earliest possible period. As far, therefore, as his opinion went, the only question which they had to decide was, whether the first clause of the Bill, carrying out, or at least professing to carry out, the recommendations of Mr. Tremenheere, with the view of giving effect to the intentions of the Legislature in the passing of a former Act, supplied sufficient grounds to induce them to consent to the second reading of the Bill, and then have it referred to a Select Committee. But when the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. C. Forster) rose, it was discovered that that was not the question at all; for that no inquiry was necessary. The hon. Gentleman said, "Pass my Bill first, and then set about your inquiries." Last year a Bill had been introduced by the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department on this subject, but withdrawn, as it was to be presumed, because the noble Lord had some doubts as to the course to be pursued; and it would appear that on the present occasion he only assented to the second reading of this Bill on condition of its being referred to a Select Committee. Now he must say that if there was to be an inquiry at all, that inquiry ought, in common fairness and in common sense, to precede any pledge given by that House as to the amendment of the Act, rather than succeed it. For himself, he must say he should infinitely prefer that inquiries should precede any pledge, while, at the same time, he confessed he did not anticipate that any benefit could accrue from such a step, after the experience of previous investigations. He believed they already possessed ample information for their guidance, though he very much feared the House of Commons would never be 843 able to carry out the wishes of those who were urging them from outside, or effectually by legislation to eradicate the evils complained of.
§ MR. C. FORSTER
said, he wished to correct a mistake into which the right hon. Baronet who had just resumed his seat had fallen with regard to an observation of his. He had not said, "First pass the measure, and have an inquiry after;" what he said was this, "First affirm the principle of the Bill by consenting to a second reading, and then refer its details for examination before a Select Committee."
§ COLONEL BLAIR
said, as representing one of the largest iron districts in Scotland, he wished to observe that it was his distinct impression that the state of those districts was very much owing to the existence there of the evils on which the Bill before the House was founded. If it was untrue that no such extortions as were complained of prevailed, all he could say was, that masters and employers in that part of the country were a very abused race of men, because no one could deny that a very general impression prevailed that the grossest abuses existed under the present system; that it was a system which drove the workmen into debt, and that when once they got into it they were completely in the hands of these shopkeepers. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester had said it would be a very unpleasant duty to have to go down to remote parts of the country to intermeddle with the owners of the shops. That might be so; but of this, too, the hon. Gentleman might be quite certain, that if he were to present himself in the districts in question, he would not be received altogether in that cordial manner which his argument seemed to anticipate. He trusted that the recommendation of the Government would be followed, and that the Bill would be submitted to a Select Committee.
§ MR. CHEETHAM
said, he could bear testimony that amongst employers and employed in Cheshire no such disputes as those recounted took place. He believed that the measure now before the House was but a continuation of the partial system of their legislation, for he was unable to discover why the case of landlords and tenants was not included within its scope. As a magistrate himself he could state that the only complaint on the part of the employed which he had ever dealt with, was in the case of a large body of agricultural labourers. He should most cordially 844 support the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ayrshire (Mr. Craufurd).
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 166; Noes 56: Majority 110.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
said, he rose for the purpose of saying that, having been referred to by his hon. Friend below him, the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), he had never felt more disappointed with a speech in his life. The hon. Gentleman had described him as being for the abolition of all laws regulating the engagements of the employer and employed. Now, if he would refer back to the year 1831, he would find that the language which he (Mr. Hume) then held was, that if they would but repeal all the Truck Acts, from the 4th of Edward IV. down to that day, and admit that they had been all useless, that he would then not object to the framing a new Bill, making the penalties anything it pleased them, even hanging if they would. Although hon. Gentlemen were very fond of recounting him as a false prophet, be would venture to state, that the same success would attend their efforts now in their attempt to regulate the arrangements of master and man, as had followed a similar effort in 1831. He must say, it was a perfectly lamentable sight in these days of free trade, when sound principles were in the ascendancy, to see Her Majesty's Ministers falling back upon such unworthy legislation.
§ Bill read 2o, and committed to a Select Committee.