§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR HENRY HALFORD
, in rising to 1212 move the second reading of this Bill, said, the subject was not new to the House, but he thought he was not open to any reproach of undue pertinacity in returning to it. The present Bill was free from the chief objections which were made to that introduced last year, and he thought, moreover, he should be inexcusable were he not to refer again to this subject in consideration of the vote of the House last week, which sanctioned the law for the prohibition of the payment of wages in goods. The object of that Bill was to put a stop to the truck system by more effectual penalties, and his object in bringing forward the present measure was to bring within the operation of the same law other malpractices which also affected the payment of wages, and which were, unfortunately, now beyond the operation of the law, in consequence of a defect in the construction of existing Acts of Parliament. He stood here as the humble advocate of the framework knitters of the Midland counties—a numerous class of men, whose distress might be said to have been proverbial—a distress long continued, and which was not to be referred to any inevitable causes, but such as were assuredly, as he thought, within the reach of legislation. Their state could not be considered as a transition state, or as one which had been produced by circumstances likely to pass away. It had, in fact, been a transition from bad to worse for a period of between thirty and forty years; and now, he thought, it was high time the evil complained of should be corrected. The nature of the manufacture was such that it was carried on to a very considerable extent in the houses of the workmen and in the shops of contractors. It required the use of a frame, which was a handloom—a machine of no great value, and which might be purchased, for the most part, for from 3l. to 4l.; such a sum, in fact, as might be supposed to place it within the reach of the workman himself. This machine, nevertheless, was never the property of the workman, but was the property of his employers or their agents, by whom it was the practice to charge a profit rent for its hire, which was deducted from the wages of the workmen—a rent of an excessive amount, and varying in different districts. Some years ago there had been a Commission appointed by that House to inquire into the condition of these workmen, and the result of that inquiry showed that this practice of paying wages by the hire of a 1213 machine at an excessive charge was characterised by all the evils of the truck system; that is to say, that the price charged was arbitrary and excessive. The Report of the Commissioners stated as follows:—The evidence 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—upon 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.The charge made for the rent of the frame was, indeed, exorbitant. It was stated in the evidence to average, along with other charges, 30 or 40 per cent on the earnings of the workmen, while in many instances it vastly exceeded even that amount. He had in his possession a number of cases showing the rent of the frame, which had been forwarded to him lately. He would not weary the House with more than one of them, which might indeed be an extreme case, but from which the House would understand the nature of the exaction. The letter he was about to read was from a poor man whose name he would not mention. The writer said:—I hold five frames, for which I pay weekly 7s. 6d. If the frames were sold by auction at the present time, they would not realise more than 18l. or 20l. at the furthest, and yet I have the sum of 19l. 10s. a year forcibly taken from my earnings in the shape of frame rent. On the 8th of this month I took in work to the gross amount of 1l. 14s., from which 15s. was deducted for rent, 6s. of which was taken for two frames which were standing still. One of the two is worn down and wants repairing.This impost was not only levied when work was plentiful, but when it was scanty; rent was charged for the frames while they were standing idle, as well as for those which were at work, and whether the workman was sick or whether he was well, he had a rent to pay for his frames. The whole grievance appeared so striking an one to the Commissioner appointed to inquire into the condition of the framework knitters, and so closely analogous to the truck system, not only within the spirit, but within the letter of the law, that, at his suggestion, steps were taken to bring the matter before a legal tribunal. The case came ultimately before Lord Denman and the Court of Queen's Bench. Unfortunately, upon a technical construction of the law, the practice was justified, and in consequence of this decision 1214 it had gone on in an aggravated form ever since. Although, however, the judgment of Lord Denman was conclusive with regard to the letter, it was not so as to the spirit of the law. There could be no question whatever but that the practice was entirely in contravention of the spirit of the existing law. It presented all the evils of the truck system—not only cases of individual oppression and injustice as regarded the workmen, but it was productive of a constant depression of wages, because it must be evident that, where these practices prevailed, those who were the parties to such practices were enabled to undersell the fair manufacturer, who, at first, perhaps, hardly aware why he was undersold, was compelled at last, if he wished to keep his place in the market, to reduce his own wages. This was the cause of the great depression and misery which had attended the workmen engaged in this manufacture. But, besides the evils which it possessed in common with the truck system, this practice was attended by other evils peculiarly its own. It became the interest of those who had frames, to spread the work over as large a number of workmen as possible. On this subject he had received a letter—and he was proud of his correspondent—from a working man of no ordinarily cultivated mind. The writer, who was the author of some literary productions which had obtained great praise from better qualified judges than he (Sir H. Halford), said:—Under the old system it is the interest of the middleman to employ as many frames as possible on a given quantity of work. He holds, say twelve frames belonging to the manufacturer, for which he pays from 1s. 3d. to 2s. rent, according to their width. For these he gets full work from the warehouse, charging the workmen from 3s. 6d. to 5s. weekly, according to width. That is heavy enough; but we should not grumble, could we have the full allowance of work given out from the warehouse. This, however, is far from being the case. Besides his own frames he rents independents,' at 9d. or 1s. a week, making together an addition of nine or ten frames, all put on the work which the twelve warehouse frames ought to have to do, thus reducing the workmen to little more than half employment, still taking full charges, the amount stated above. Hence, the slowest hands, the idlest, and the most profligate are employed by the middlemen in preference to the steady and industrious, the latter being the more troublesome from the dissatisfaction they show on account of the injustice of the system and the poverty and hardship it entails upon themselves and their families. Out of many other modes of exaction I will only name one, which, in addition to the above heavy charges, is very cruel; though, to do them justice, it is not practised by 1215 all. It is simply stinting the quickest workmen to six or eight shillings' worth of work a week less than they can do, unless they agree to pay twopence out of every shilling they earn above the 'stint.'Now, what was the remedy for these evils? He had on a former occasion understood the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) to say, that the remedy was to be obtained by combinations or strikes on the part of the workmen; but that was an opinion which could hardly be confirmed, for it was generally admitted that the practice of assembling, among workpeople, had not proved desirable or advantageous. A far better remedy would be found in the rearrangement and improvement of the law. A most important witness on this subject stated, in his examination before the Commissioner, that—Just in proportion as I feel confident that strikes do harm and secret combinations are wicked, do I feel the importance of giving timely heed to the representations of bodies of men who think themselves injured or feel themselves miserable and depressed.The object of the Bill which he now asked the House to read a second time was to give that heed, timely he could not call it, but most requisite. There was no new principle in the Bill, and he believed that it would be beneficial in various ways. It would enable workmen to possess their own frames, which would be a great step towards independence, and where such was not the case the market would be opened, and the workman would be enabled to hire his frame at the cheapest rate, subject to the natural law of supply and demand. He would venture to say, that the Bill was universally desired by the workmen, and in support of that opinion he could refer to the number of petitions presented during the last and the present Session of Parliament in its favour. Last year petitions in its favour were presented, signed by upwards of 30,000 persons; and the number of those who had signed petitions presented this Session amounted to 7,000. It was also a measure desired by many of the manufacturers themselves. Some of the manufacturers of Leicester who had last year entertained objections to such a proposal, now, he understood, had waved those objections. From Nottingham there had indeed been repeated the same objections as before; and in the first place the Bill had been deprecated as an interference with the freedom of trade. This seemed to him a very extraordinary view 1216 of freedom of trade. He had heard of a citizen of one of the Slave States of America, who made it his boast that he lived in a land of liberty, where every man might thrash his own nigger! Very similar to this appeared the notion these Nottingham gentlemen entertained of freedom of trade. For his own part, he could not understand that species of freedom which restricted the workman from going where he pleased, either to purchase his food or to hire his machine. He would not enter into the other objections, further than to say that they were founded upon what appeared to him to be gratuitous assertions, He thought that from the evidence of the Commissioner, and from the notorious facts of the case, the prices charged for the hire of frames were arbitrary and capricious to the last degree. An objection has been urged against the present proposal in that House, that it would be found impossible to prevent the practice of frame-hiring, but there was abundant evidence that no such impossibility existed. The truck system in provisions, which was entirely analogous, had been materially checked, although, indeed, it was remarked that a still more efficient law on that subject was required. He was no scorner of what was called the science of political economy, but if he understood that science aright, it rested for its foundation on the necessity of leaving the natural laws which regulated matters of trade, and which could not be interfered with without mischief, to their free operation. But it was a mistake, he thought, to suppose these laws were only capable of being interfered with by legislation. They were liable to be disturbed and impeded by vicious customs and practices; and when this was the case, it became the proper duty and office of legislation to correct and abate those customs and practices by positive law; and for such law he believed there was an imperative necessity in the present instance. He should be sorry that any one should understand him to reflect in any way upon the conduct of the manufacturers as a general body, for he believed that very many of them were just and honourable men; but even on their behalf it was necessary to put a stop to the rapacity of some, to prevent the whole body incurring undue reproach. He asked the House to allow of the second reading of this Bill for the sake of promoting equal justice between man and man, and also upon broad principles of general policy, 1217 which in fact were no other than those of justice, as applied to large classes of the community.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ SIR WILLIAM CLAY
said, he rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. So far from its being productive of any benefit to those for whose advantage it professed to be designed, it would, on the contrary, be injurious in its effect, by raising in their minds expectations which could never be realised. The Bill was one to interfere between the master and the workman in the hosiery trade, to prevent their entering into engagements which they themselves considered mutually convenient or advantageous. The policy embodied in the Bill was essentially retrograde. It partook of the spirit of an age in which the Statute-book was encumbered with numberless contrivances for regulating the proceedings of individuals between each other, although experience had proved that every successive abrogation of such Statutes had been accompanied by an advance of civilisation and by an increase of national prosperity. He had thought that by this time the legitimate province of legislation was understood—that it was agreed on all hands what were the cases in which it was useful for the Legislature to interfere in the proceedings of individuals. The law had power to enforce a contract when made, but it could not decide what were the best contracts for a man to enter into. The Bill of the hon. Gentleman was in direct opposition to that principle, for it proposed to prevent certain compacts or agreements being entered into between workmen and their employers. The system at present in operation in the district to which the Bill applied was in accordance with the principles of political economy, for it was agreeable to those principles that the capital and machinery should be provided by the employer of labour, rather than by the labourer. But, if that were so, what was the difference between machinery collected in one building or scattered through several dwellings? The hon. Baronet had said, however, that although the system was not wrong in theory, it was made injurious by the method in which it was worked; but surely that was a very superficial way of looking at the subject. The only circumstance which could give a master power over his workmen so as to compel them 1218 to accept terms disadvantageous to themselves would be when the labour-market was overstocked with hands. When the supply of labour exceeded the demand, of course the workman did not command such good wages as he would if the contrary were the case, and no law could be passed which could alter that state of things. At the present moment, a proposal like the present was peculiarly unnecessary, because the labour-market was lightening itself by emigration, and in a short time all the workmen would be well able to take care of themselves. He thought also that the machinery of the Bill was as objectionable as the principle of it, and that if it passed into law it would become a mere dead letter. The first clause of this Bill provided that—From and after the passing of this Act, all contracts for labour in the said hosiery manufacture shall be made at neat rates for wages for labour to be performed, free from any deduction or stoppage on account of the use of any frame or machine, its standing, or any charges on any pretext whatever, and the said wages so contracted for shall be paid in full, in the current coin of the realm, and not otherwise.Such a provision as that was easily evaded; for a master might pay his workmen the full amount of his wages in coin, and require the workmen immediately to go into an adjoining room, and pay a certain amount for the rent of a frame, so that the wording of the Act would be complied with, but the intention of it entirely frustrated. With regard to the second clause in the Bill, the effect of it would be to inflict a penalty upon men of mature age for entering into a contract which they considered mutually advantageous. He considered that the Bill, both in its principle and in its machinery, was one of the most objectionable measures which he had ever seen introduced into that House. He understood that the Government intended to permit the Bill to be read a second time, that it might afterwards be sent before a Select Committee; but he did not see any necessity for further inquiry. He hoped that the House would not sanction a measure so vicious in its principle, and which must prove so inefficient in its operation.
§ MR. WILKINSON
seconded the Amendment. He said, he had the same view as the hon. Baronet—the improvement of the working classes; but most sincerely, on the part of those classes, he objected to this Bill. His object was to 1219 raise the wages of labour; that was the Object of all political economists; and it was for the purpose of raising the standard of comfort of the labouring classes that he should give the Bill his strenuous opposition. It was diametrically opposed to the sound principles of political economy, as enunciated by M'Culloch, Ricardo, and others. It was impossible to raise the rate of wages by legislation, and the Bill would divert the attention of the working classes from the real remedy of the evil under which they laboured, that remedy being a better knowledge of their own position, and the practice of abstinence, prudence, and forethought. It was said that the stocking knitters were the slaves of their masters, but there was nothing to prevent them from going where they could obtain higher wages, and the only law to which they were subject was the law of their circumstances, which it would be only deluding them to tell them could be altered by legislation.
§ Amendment proposed to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
§ SIR JOSHUA WALMSLEY
said, he supported the Bill with the view of sending it before a Select Committee; and after the statements made by the hon. Baronet who introduced it, he thought it was absolutely necessary for eliciting the truth, and removing, if they existed, the abuses which had been set forth. In fact, no one had attempted to deny them. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay) who had moved the Amendment to put an end to all inquiry, had simply intimated that it was adverse to political economy, and inconsistent with free trade. He (Sir J. Walmsley) was sorry to learn that inquiry into the complaints of the industrial classes could be so construed. The hon. Member had, however, shown that he did not understand the question at issue, and he (Sir J. Walmsley) hoped the House, instead of rejecting the measure, would send it to a Committee, as they did the Anti-Truck Bill last week. This measure was in fact part and parcel of the truck question, but it was truck in its most obnoxious form. In other trades to which truck was said specially to apply, the money did find its way into the hands of the men, and they had the "seeming" opportunity to disburse it as they pleased; not so with this; the men had no such opportunity. The money never found its 1220 way into their hands, nor had they what they thought a fair opportunity of obtaining value for their money. In many cases the interest demanded and obtained on frame-rents amounted to as much as 20 to 40 per cent per annum. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had said it was an attempt on the part of the men to dictate to the masters. The men totally disclaimed any such intention. The hon. Member might with equal correctness have said, it was an attempt to dictate to the men on the part of the masters. The hon. Member said it was opposed to the principles of free trade and political economy, and was supported in that view by the hon. Member who seconded his Amendment. He (Sir J. Walmsley) was as decided a supporter of those principles as either of the hon. Gentlemen, but he desired to apply them generally, and to all cases, not to such particular and special cases as might suit individual views. It unfortunately happened when the interests of the workman were concerned, or when injurious customs were shown and admitted, we were not to inquire into them because it was said to be adverse to the abstract principles of political economy. Such views were calculated to bring political economy to a discount amongst the producing classes, nor were they correct in the present case. There was no free trade as respects frame-rents; the men must take them from those who can give the work, and upon their own terms. The landed gentlemen had been twitted with having formerly kept a great truck shop, in the shape of a monopoly on corn, but they had to their credit abandoned it, and were now endeavouring to carry out that which had been promised, years gone by, that when the "Great Truck" was abolished, all the "little trucks" would follow, and the producing classes were anxiously looking for the realisation of that promise. He had received numerous letters from both the operatives and the employers with respect to this Bill, and both appeared to desire that the question should be permanently settled. Both admitted the evils of the custom which had grown up, but he was bound to say they did not equally agree as to the remedy; for his own part he did not take up the question in the spirit of a partisan, but with a sincere desire to produce a better state of things than he believed now existed. It was due to the operatives to state, that so far from desiring to dictate, they approached the subject with much 1221 hesitation, but were compelled by what they believed to be the justice of their case, and their absolute necessities. They disclaimed now, as they had done previously, any intention to interfere with the rates of wages, further than their own rights justified. They were willing to submit even to lower wages if needs be; but they desired those wages, whatever the rate might be, should be paid in full, and in the coin of the realm without stoppages. He would not trouble the House with the communications to which he referred from the operatives, but it would be desirable that he should read one or two letters from masters. Some of them had long worked at net wages, and others were now desirous of doing so, but they thought it desirable all should be placed on the same equality. Many of the masters were most anxious to relieve themselves and their men from the alienation which was unfortunately too rife in this trade, and he felt persuaded that it was for the permanent interests of all that this question should be set at rest. The first letter he would read was from Messrs. Preston and Co., a firm of great respectability, who had given to the new system a fair trial and had found it to answer the most sanguine expectations:—Humberstone Road, Leicester,March 20, 1854.To Sir J. Walmsley, M.P.Dear Sir,—In looking over the Bill now before Parliament, 'To Restrain Stoppages from Payment of Wages in the Hosiery Manufacture,' I am much pleased with its simplicity, and think it quite an improvement on the Bill of last year; and it is my earnest wish that you will be able to bring it to a successful issue.In my humble opinion, the provisions of the Bill may be carried out to the satisfaction of all parties; and as far as my knowledge extends, it will not be detrimental to any one. I have nothing new to add about the working of a system of paying wages without stoppages (a system which we have adopted now for eight years), excepting that, through the severe winter that we have just passed through, several of our workpeople have been short of work; but we have no complaining or disputes at the pay table about how much rent shall be paid for a small amount of work, every man knowing that if he earns but one shilling, he will receive it in full in the current coin of the realm.Wishing you success in this and every other attempt to improve the condition of the working classes,—I remain, dear Sir, yours obediently,SAMUEL BROWN,Superintendent ofMessrs. W. Preston and Co's. factory.The next and only other letter with which he would trouble the house, although he 1222 had many, was from an eminent manufacturer in the borough he had the honour to represent; and as this gentleman had proved both plans—the stoppages and net wages system—his opinions would be useful in arriving at a correct conclusion:—Leicester, March 14, 1854.My dear Sir,—There can be little doubt of the assent of the House to the proposal of referring the present Bill to a Committee; and although, as a principle, I deprecate legislation for trade, yet as I feel certain the system of net contracts will never be voluntarily entered into by the manufacturers, and as I believe that the adoption of net contracts between employers and employed, will remove at once the fertile source of that feeling of alienation which has so long existed between masters and men, I shall be glad to see a Statute preventing abuses from being perpetrated which are at war with justice and equity.The Bill of last year was a complicated affair: it affected every trade in the country, and would have been inoperative against the evil it was intended to remove. This Bill is clear, simple, and comprehensive, and will be an effectual and practical remedy. Should the Bill be referred to Committee, I shall be happy to afford any information in my power.—I am, &c.Hon. Members required the name, he had no objection to give it, in fact, he thanked the House for demanding it. It was from the brother of the hon. Member for Newport, John Biggs, and he knew no man more capable of forming a sound judgment upon this much-vexed question. As this Bill was likely to be sent to a Select Committee, and as the interests of all would be there fairly considered, he would not detain the House by further statements, but merely content himself with expressing the belief that such a course was due to all parties concerned, and likely to lead to a permanent settlement of the question.
§ SIR GEORGE STRICKLAND
said, that he had opposed those who pushed to an undue extent the general principle that Parliament should not interfere with the concerns of the employer and the employed in the case of women and children engaged in factories, because these persons, from their helpless position, were unable to make a contract upon equal terms with their masters, and ought to be treated in an analogous manner to, minors and wards of the Court of Chancery, who could not protect themselves. The present case, however, was a totally different one, and one in which the general principle of non-interference with the operations of trade and employment ought to be allowed to take its effect, because the stocking workers were full-grown men and adults, who 1223 perfectly understood their own interests and their own business, and were quite capable of protecting themselves against the masters. He, therefore, thought that the Bill, although introduced from a humane motive, would only inflict injury upon those whom it was designed to serve.
§ MR. PACKE
said, that with respect to the case now brought under the notice of the House, there did not exist an equality of agreement between the masters and the workmen; for the latter, according to the Report of the Commission of Inquiry, were completely tied down, and were unable to make a free bargain with the masters. The fact was, that the workmen were obliged to pay whatever frame-rent was fixed on, however exorbitant, or they would get no work at all, and must starve. It was known that these frames were, in many instances, not the property of the masters, but of persons in no way connected with the trade, such as butchers and gentlemen's servants, who let them to the hosiers; the latter let them to middlemen, and the workmen, after paying enormous frame-rents, did not get more than 5s. or 6s. a week. The hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Wilkinson) said he should like to see the workmen get higher wages; then he should support the present Bill, which would accomplish that object, by enabling the men to have frames of their own. The hon. Member for Preston (Sir G. Strickland) should also, in accordance with his own argument, support the Bill, as these workmen, though grown up, were not in a condition to make bargains. They must either submit to the existing practice or starve. It was for these reasons that he should vote for the second reading.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, he wished to know whether, as had been hinted, the Government were in favour of referring the present Bill to a Committee? If such an inclination were announced by the Government, the time of the House might, perhaps, be spared in respect to the discussion of the question. If ever there was a matter requiring to be sent before a Select Committee it was the present, particularly after the speech of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay), who, however good might be his political economy, had shown that his practical knowledge of the present question was very bad. The hon. Member talked as if all the knitting frames belonged to the masters, but the fact was, only about one-fifth belonged to the persons who employed the knitters, and 1224 in many cases they belonged to middlemen, to gentlemen's servants, and to different persons who speculated in them, and frequently almost the whole earnings of the workpeople were swallowed up by those persons. He conceived that the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Halford) deserved the thanks of the House for exposing a system fraught with fraud and oppression to the framework knitter, and he was glad to hear that the Government intended to support the second reading, and to let the Bill go to a Committee.
said, he had stated on a former occasion, when the present Bill was introduced, that it was the intention of the noble Lord the Home Secretary to permit the Bill to be read a second time, with a view to its being referred to the Committee on the Truck System. Without entering into the merits of the Bill, he thought he should not do right if he left the House to imagine that this course was adopted on account of any notion on the noble Lord's part that the Bill would be beneficial in its results, or on account of any inclination to interfere between labourers and their employers. But, as a Committee had been appointed on an analogous subject—the truck system—the noble Lord thought it desirable, in deference to the large number of Gentlemen who last year advocated the introduction of such a measure (there having been 125 Members of the House in favour of the second reading), and partly, perhaps, to disabuse the minds of the workpeople themselves with reference to the effect of any legislation in these matters, and, also, to put the House in possession of as much information as possible on the subject, to support the second reading in order to send the Bill to the Committee upstairs. He regretted to say that his noble Friend the Home Secretary was unable to attend in consequence of indisposition, otherwise he would have made the above statement himself.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he felt competed by a sense of duty to express his regret at the course which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fitzroy) had announced on the part of the Government. If he could believe that that course would have the effect of disabusing the minds of the persons most interested in this measure—the working people—of any false hopes that the Legislature could do anything to benefit them in this matter, he should entirely agree in the propriety of sending the Bill to a Committee; but he was afraid that the effect 1225 of doing so would only be to excite expectations which must be disappointed. He had listened attentively to the debate, and was entirely at a loss to discover any reason which should induce the House to take a different course with respect to this Bill from that which it pursued last year, and to sanction the principle of the present measure, as it did when it gave to it a second reading. Any attempt on the part of that House to interfere between the employer and the employed was, in his mind, fraught with delusion. He was ready to do justice to the motives and intentions of the supporters of the present measure, and he was sorry to hear from the hon. Baronet who introduced it that this particular class of operatives were now in a state of peculiar distress. He remembered, a year or two ago, during discussions on agricultural subjects, hearing from the hon. Baronet a frank admission, which he thought did that hon. Gentleman, as a Protectionist, great credit, that this class of operatives had never been, to his knowledge, in so good a condition as since the Corn Laws were repealed, and therefore he would be no party to the reimposition of those laws. He (Mr. Labouchere) hoped, then, that he laboured under some misconception when he imagined that the hon. Baronet now said that an alteration had taken place in the condition of those persons, whom he believed to be deserving of the sympathy of that House and of the country. After listening to the debate, he was more and more satisfied that legislation of this description could never answer any useful purpose. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) had said that it was a mistake to suppose that, in the majority of instances, it was the master hosier who made this demand on account of frame-rent; that demand was made by other persons not connected with him. If that were so, of what possible use could be the present Bill, the object of which was to prohibit the master hosier from making the deduction? On the other hand, if it was the master hosier who made the demand, he could always defeat such legislation as that now recommended by simply paying his men their full wages with one hand, and receiving a deduction with the other in an adjoining room. The truth was, that, let the House do what it would, if the workmen were in such a state of thraldom as to be entirely in the hands of their employers, they must submit to unjust restrictions. His desire was to see the workmen of this country, as 1226 a body, in a condition to be able to receive good wages for their work, not as a matter of kindness or favour, but because their labour was worth the money in the market; and when such was the case, the labouring classes of this country were in a proper condition. That result, however, could not be attained by minute legislation entering into the details of every trade, which would only raise hopes never to be satisfied. If the House divided, he should certainly give his vote against the second reading of the Bill. As to referring the Bill to a Select Committee, that appeared to him a most extraordinary course. There was really nothing in the Bill to refer, and, if the principle were sanctioned, there was no reason why the Bill should not be discussed in a Committee of the House. The whole matter had already been thoroughly inquired into; and the House never had sanctioned, and he hoped, for the sake of the working classes, never would sanction, the principle of such a measure. He should rejoice if the House rejected the second reading.
§ SIR HENRY HALFORD
said, he certainly had anticipated last year that the trade was in some degree reviving, but he was afraid he could not say the same thing now. He did not mean to say that the workmen at this moment were in a state of peculiar distress, but he was afraid they were not so well off as they had been, and that trade was again relapsing into its former state, and he thought the best way of supporting it was by passing this Bill, therefore he believed the opposition to the Bill arose from a misconception of the nature of the practice. It was said, that the depression amongst the workmen was caused by the relative state of the supply and demand for labour, but the extra supply of labour was caused by this practice, because it was the interest of the letters out of frames to spread the work over as large a number of workmen as they possibly could. That was acknowledged at the conclusion of the Commissioners' Report, whose observation was to the effect that labour was powerfully influenced by the exorbitant rent demanded for these frames, because it gave to those who had the letting out of them an inducement to spread them over the greatest number of workmen possible.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, it had been distinctly stated by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Packe), that the object of the Bill was to establish a higher rate 1227 of wages, and it certainly was the first time that the Government of the country was found lending its aid to the delusion that Parliament, by any Bill it could pass, could raise the rate of wages. The fact was, that that class of persons was allowed a nominal rate of wages greatly higher than the wages they were actually receiving. What was called their wages was not their real wages, but their wages less the payment for the tools, which belonged to some other person. It was just as reasonable to argue that they must hold their houses rent free, because they were not earning wages. Whether they were earning wages or not they must pay their rent; and how could it be argued that, because they were not always earning the same wages, they were not to give a remuneration to the owners of those machines that they hired? It was alleged that those machines were the property of the masters, and that they used them to grind down the labourer; but it appeared that in the majority of cases the owners of those machines were independent persons, and if the House should deprive them of the remuneration they claimed, they would take care those workmen should have no machines at all. This Bill and the Bill in reference to the truck system were totally distinct. The law said that wages must be paid in money, and that no evasion of the law should be permitted; but here they were proposing to say, not that wages should be paid in money, but that men should receive more wages than they really earned; and on that ground he should oppose the Bill.
§ MR. PACKE
said, he must beg to explain the observation from which it was inferred by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie), that the Bill was supported because it would establish a higher rate of wages. What was said was, that the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Wilkinson), having stated that he had always been trying to establish a higher rate of wages, should vote for the Bill.
§ MR. COBBETT
said, he fully concurred in all that had been said by the hon. Baronet who had brought this question forward, whom he thanked for the endeavours he had made to benefit the working classes; he was fully persuaded that the Bill ought to be sent before a Committee. The Report of the Commission of 1844 showed that the question demanded the serious attention of the Legislature, and bore out the statements of the hon. Baronet with 1228 regard to the manner in which these people were deprived of their earnings, to which circumstance the Commissioner attributed the deplorable condition in which they were placed. It was shown that they could not send their children to school, and that they were ashamed to appear in church, because they did not possess sufficient clothing. He did not say that the Bill would do all that was required, but he did not think it would raise false hopes in the minds of the men, because he knew from some of their own statements that they only hoped it might lead to some alteration in the mode of carrying on the trade. He had been furnished with several instances which showed that the present condition of the men was quite as bad as it was at the time the Report of the Commission was issued; but he would only mention one case, in which the rent and other expenses of a man upon an average of nine weeks amounted to 2s. 4d. per week, while his average net wages during the same period amounted only to 2s. 5d.
§ MR. GARDNER
said, he thought such abuses as these could not be remedied by Acts of Parliament; but if they legislated at all, they ought to enact that there should be an increase in the demand for hosiery and a decrease in the number of people who were competing for employment. He should not, however, in consideration of the opinions entertained by many of his constituents, resist the proposition of the Government.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he was opposed to the Bill, because he thought it would materially injure the parties interested. He believed that all legislation between employers and employed, where the employer as well as the employed were of sound mind and of adult age, was mischievous.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 120; Noes 73: Majority 47.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed to a Select Committee.
§ The House adjourned at thirteen minutes before Six o'clock.