HC Deb 15 March 1855 vol 137 cc592-619

said, he would now beg to move for leave to bring in a Bill to limit and regulate the hours of work of females and young persons in the factories of the United Kingdom to ten hours in the day, and to provide the means of more perfectly inspecting the factories. Two years ago he had obtained leave to bring in a similar Bill, but at too late a period of the Session to have any chance of passing it, and last year, though he had made several endeavours to obtain an opportunity for renewing his Motion, he had been unsuccessful. He had, therefore, taken the earliest occasion which offered itself this year, and he hoped the House would allow him now to introduce his Bill, in order that it might be printed and circulated through the country with a view to its full discussion at as early a period as was convenient after the recess. The factory question was one which had excited great interest, both in Parliament and in the country. For fifty years efforts had been made to reduce the hours of labour of children, then of young people, as they were called, from the age of thirteen to eighteen, and, lastly of all, females, to that which every one must allow was a reasonable extent of labour—namely, ten hours a day. In 1847 Parliament passed an Act, by which it was provided that no young person and no female should work more than ten hours a day; and the Speaker, in his speech to the Throne at the end of the Session, congratulated Her Majesty upon the circumstance. Unfortunately, there was a flaw in an Act to which the Act of 1847 necessarily referred, and the manufacturers, in consequence, were enabled to evade it. They adopted a mode of working called the "shift" system, by which, though they worked no person longer than ten hours in any one day, they kept them in and out of the mills in such a manner as to extract from them twelve, thirteen, and even in some cases fifteen hours' labour per day. This was acknowledged to be an evasion of the spirit of the law. It was decided by the Judges that in 1849, though Parliament intended that no protected person should work more than ten consecutive hours in any one day, the words of the Act were not precise upon the point, and thus the evasion was in accordance with the letter of the law. The Ten Hours Bill of 1847, therefore, in point of fact, was abrogated by the fatal flaw to which he had referred. It was admitted, however, that the error was one which ought to be rectified by an amended Bill, but the working people became alarmed in consequence of rumours which gained ground that it was intended so to amend the Bill as to infringe the ten-hour principle. They thought it would be a breach of faith on the part of Parliament to deprive them of any part of what was intended in 1847—namely, a real honest Ten flours Bill, and, in consequence of the fears entertained by the working people, the Secretary for the Home Department was applied to through Lord Ashley, in order to ascertain if it was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to introduce a proper Ten Hours Bill, or in any way to infringe that principle. This application was made by the Spinners' Association at Manchester; it put the question distinctly to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) whether he intended to adhere to the ten-hours principle in any amended Bill. An answer was returned to the spinners, signed by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, stating that the then Secretary of State for the Home Department intended to do nothing that would be inconsistent with the spirit of the Act of 1847. The factory people, therefore, thought themselves safe, and were justified in believing that, at any rate, the House of Commons in any measure which might be passed would observe the principle of ten hours labour a day. In May, 1850, the right hon. Baronet the present Secretary for the Home Department detailed to the House the principles of a new measure, which he wished to introduce. The right hon. Gentleman stated that, having taken the advice of other parties, and after great consideration, it was found desirable to extend the term of labour to ten hours and a half, but that a great boon would be conferred upon the workpeople by limiting the hours of labour between six o clock in the morning to six at night. Any person practically acquainted with the manufacturing districts would be aware that this was no boon to the factory operatives, as they already possessed this advantage. The manufacturer of course took those hours of the day which were the most convenient in respect to the day light, in order to save the expense of gas or other artificial light. Consequently he would of course work between six and six, and no Act was required for that purpose. This was no boon, but a mere delusion. The right hon. Gentleman, in explaining the intentions of the Government with regard to the factory question, said— On the one hand, although during the week this class would be employed somewhat more than under the existing law, on the other hand they will gain this advantage—they will have half an hour in the morning, between half-past five and six o'clock, at their own disposal; they will have, undisturbed, the whole evening after six o'clock at their own disposal; and on Saturday, after two o'clock, the whole day at their disposal."—[3 Hansard, cx. 1134.] Now, if the custom of the manufacturers had been to bring their workpeople into the mill at half-past five o'clock in the morning, and the Ten Hours Bill had been properly enforced, they could not have kept their hands at work after five in the day, so that here again no boon was conferred upon the operatives. The right hon. Gentleman promised the hands half-an-hour more on the Saturday than they would possess under a Ten Hours Bill; but, in point of fact, no additional time was given at all, as the workpeople, in the present mode of violating the law, went on working till three and half-past three o'clock in the afternoon, instead of stopping at two or half-past two o'clock, as they would have done under the Ten Hours Bill. The measure of the right hon. Gentleman was, therefore, immediately resisted. Petitions were presented against it from workpeople, merchants, bankers, manufacturers, clergy, and trades people in Manchester, Preston, Bradford, and other towns; but, in spite of the opposition of the manufacturing districts, the right hon. Gentleman pursued his course, and Parliament, with too much readiness, supported him. The Bill was, however, passed, and the Act came into operation, and the labour in factories of women, young persons, and children, was extended half-an-hour more on five days in the week, and curtailed, according to the law, half-an-hour on the Saturday afternoon. Well, how did this Act work? Had it been observed since the time it became law? On the contrary, it scarcely came into operation before the Factory Inspectors began to complain that it was violated to such an extent that it was absolutely necessary to pass some further Act to enforce its provisions. He would refer shortly to some of the remonstrances and complaints which were made upon the subject. Mr. Horner, the Factory Inspector, stated in his Report, dated the 30th of April, 1852— The details I have given of these cases, and what I have further stated in my Report for the half-year ending the 31st of October last, if you will please to refer to them, will, I think, satisfy you that there must be an amendment of the existing law before the evil complained of by the millowners in the memorial from Manchester, lately presented to you, can be corrected. The memorial alluded to by Mr. Horner was one presented to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole) during the time he was Secretary for the Home Department, from the manufacturers themselves, in which they stated that the provisions of the Act were so much violated in the country districts of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire that they required some amendment of the law in order to protect their interests and place them upon an equal footing with other manufacturers who were in the habit of employing their workpeople beyond the hours to which the mills in Manchester were kept at work. So much as to the mode in which the Act had been observed after it came into operation. From that time to the present there had been repeated complaints, showing more or less that the Act was constantly violated by the overworking of the young people, who ought not to have worked more than ten hours and a half a day. In October, 1852, the Factory Inspectors made a joint Report, stating that the clear intentions of the Legislature were defeated because of the difficulty in obtaining the conviction of offenders. After that, down to October, 1854, when the last Report was presented to the House, the inspectors, in every one of their Reports, though they stated now and then that the Act was fairly observed, pointed out the necessity of an amendment of the law, in order to prevent the violation of its intentions. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary might, perhaps, say that he did not go into Lancashire, Scotland, and Yorkshire to inspect the factories, but received information from the factory inspectors, and he was content with those few words used by them, that the law was fairly observed; but it was his (Mr. Cobbett's) duty, in order to justify his Motion for the amendment of the law, to state some strong facts, showing the feeling of the manufacturing districts on the subject. During the last Session not less than 1,083 petitions were presented to the House, asking the House to pass such a Bill as he had introduced in the preceding Session; and the petitioners stated distinctly that violations of the law were systematically carried on, that they desired a Ten Hours Bill in its strictness, and that they knew no mode by which the violations of the law could be effectually put down other than by the proposition he had made for a restriction on the motive power of the mill and for a better mode of inspection. During the Session he had presented from a body of his constituents a remarkable petition, signed by the then mayor and late mayor of Oldham, both large manufacturers, and by, he believed, all the aldermen and a great portion of the town council, and this petition distinctly called on the House to pass his Bill of last Session, alleging that the systematic violations of the present law made it necessary. The gentlemen who signed this petition were, for the greater part, largely engaged in manufactures, and could it be supposed that they would pray the House to adopt that which was inimical to the interests of the manufacturers. Petitions came from all parts of the kingdom; they were signed by upwards of 200,000 persons, and were unopposed by any counter petitions. He thought the facts he had stated were conclusive as to the feelings of the people on the subject, and they ought to have sufficient weight to induce the House to permit him to introduce the Bill he now asked leave to bring in. That was one mode by which he showed the feelings of the manufacturing people of the country on the subject, but he could refer to other proofs of the strong desire that existed for an amendment of the law. In 1852, when he was elected, his opinions on the factory question were well known, and he was able to give a pledge to his constituents which he knew would be satisfactory to them, and which he believed to be founded in justice, that he would support such a Bill. Since his election two other elections had taken place in the manufacturing boroughs of Lancashire, and at those elections it was considered by the factory operatives most important to ascertain whether the candidates would frankly pledge themselves in favour of the Bill he had introduced. At Blackburn the Member returned promised to support his Bill, and, if that hon. Member were not now extremely unwell, he should have the advantage of that hon. Gentleman's advocacy on the present as on a former occasion. The rejected candidate also promised to support the measure. Subsequently, at the election for Clitheroe, the two candidates were asked whether they would support his Bill, and the one who promised to do so was returned, and the other, who gave no such pledge, was rejected. These were facts, which showed distinctly that the factory people were desirous of having the Bill, which he had on a former occasion presented to the House; and the one he should now move for leave to introduce was very similar to the measure he brought under the notice of hon. Members two years ago. With regard to the Ten Hours Bill, he knew that it effected a great deal of good. He knew that under its operation the people enjoyed better health and greater domestic comfort, and that, whereas before the young women had not time to make their own clothing of any kind, they had, after the passing of that Bill, and during its operation, been able to perform many needful domestic duties—it had given them domestic comfort which they had not before enjoyed. This was the reason why he felt so strongly on the subject. The House should recollect what was the condition of the factory people before any factory legislation took place. The long hours of work had enervated the bodies of the people; he meant this literally; this had been fully proved. One consequence, among others, of the long hours of working was that it affected the recruiting for the army. It was ascertained that the working people in the factory districts were, to a great extent, so reduced in strength as to be unfitted for the army. Sir John Elly stated, that when he was engaged recruiting at Leeds, he found a prodigious number of persons rejected, as compared with the agricultural districts. In giving evidence before the Health of Towns Commission, Sergeant Farrell said— He had been engaged ten years in the recruiting service. For ten recruits he got formerly, he could only now get one, and that one was frequently rejected. He ascribed this to the circumstance that, when persons go to work in factories early, they do not grow to the proper size, have always some deformity, and are pale and sickly, and thin in flesh. The surgeon refuses them for being too thin, not round chested, and not standing straight. In Rochdale there is almost no use staying. I have been only able to pick out thirty men for the last eighteen months, and out of those only one was passed by the surgeon for every four rejected. This result of severe factory labour was not confined to England, it existed also on the Continent. In 1840 Lord Ashley quoted an extract from the Report of a Commission of the Chamber of Peers in France, to the effect that, of every 10,000 men believed capable of military service in the agricultural districts, 4,029 were rejected on account of physical infirmities; while of every 10,000 men in the manufacturing districts 9,930 were rejected from the same cause. The same state of things existed in Prussia, where the manufacturing districts could not fully supply the contingents required of them. The consequence was, that, both in France and in Prussia restrictions had been imposed on factory labour. Did not this show that interference was necessary, and did it not show that the Ten Hours' Law ought to have been rigidly adhered to? When he formerly brought this subject before the House, he mentioned, on the authority of Dr. Fletcher, of Bury, the astounding mortality that prevailed among the children of factory operatives. From the fact of the mothers working in the factories, and being thereby kept away for long periods of time from their children, great numbers under two years of age died. Dr. Fletcher stated that, of every 100 deaths among the factory workers, a fraction over sixty-one were infants under two years of age, while among the other operative classes in the same locality the deaths of infants under two years of age were a fraction under thirty-three in 100. Last year, at the meeting of the British Association, a Mr. Ashworth, a manufacturer, furnished a variety of statistics relating to the celebrated strike which took place at Preston. It would be recollected, perhaps, that this strike took place during a very severe winter and lasted for six months, and that those connected with it were exposed to very great privations. After Mr. Ashworth had stated to the British Association a great many details with regard to the strike and its mischievous consequences, the Rev. Mr. Clay, the chaplain to the Preston House of Correction, observed that there was one point so important as to deserve special notice. He had reason to believe, he said, from data in his possession, that there were 1,000 women generally employed in the factories among the 18,000 persons who were out on strike, and who were the mothers of infants under five years of age; and he added that the number of infant deaths in Preston among the operative spinners during the six months of the strike was 497, whereas the number of deaths in the six months before the strike was 594. This, he observed, raised the important question, how far it was proper to encourage the employment in our cotton mills of women who had young infants at home who required their attention. The House would observe that, notwithstanding the privations of the strike and the severity of the winter, there were about 100 fewer deaths in the six months during which the strike lasted than in the six months before, while the same people were in full work. It was quite clear that it was the mother's absence from her family which caused the high rate of infant mortality in these districts, and that absence was entirely chargeable upon the factory system as at present carried on. And this fact he looked upon as a remarkable confirmation of Dr. Fletcher's statement. If the deaths in Preston owing to factory work were so many, what would be the total number in the whole of the manufacturing districts of England and Scotland? With a view of remedying the evils which now prevailed in the working of the law, he now asked the House to permit him to introduce this Bill, the leading provisions of which he would briefly state. He proposed, in the first instance, to reduce the hours of labour to ten. And then, as the only practicable way of giving the Factory Inspectors some chance of enforcing the law, he proposed to place a restriction on the motive power, so as to limit its time of working to that fixed for the hours of labour. He knew that in this last proposal he struck against that which many Members would call hazardous, but which, nevertheless, practical manufacturers had declared to be the only effectual mode of ensuring the object in view. Before the Factory Commissioners, appointed to inquire into the condition of the operatives in 1833, commenced their inquiries, they circulated among the manufacturers a series of questions, and the object of one of those questions was to ascertain the opinion of practical manufacturers as to the mode in which an efficient factory law might be framed. He found that in reply to that inquiry forty-eight manufacturing firms in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Scotland, and Ireland, declared that they could not suggest anything more effective than what he (Mr. Cobbett) proposed by this Bill—namely, the restriction of the motive power. Mr. Bolling, the late Member for Bolton, an extensive manufacturer, who volunteered his opinion on the subject, said— I wish to say, that as I use up in my concern one-ninetieth part of the cotton consumed in Great Britain, I think it is right I should declare my opinion about an alteration in the law. Now, my opinion is, that whatever Bill is passed, it should be a tight one, and such as can never be evaded; it should be equal and efficient; and for this it must be a restriction on the moving power; then, if that is not granted, we must have a warden, and he must enforce the law at his discretion, and so place us all on one footing. One of the clauses of the Bill which he (Mr. Cobbett) asked leave to introduce would impose such a restriction. The other clauses of the Bill carried out the suggestions of the Factory Inspectors with reference to an increase of penalties and some other matters, but there was one new clause by which he proposed to give, to persons who ascertained that offences had been committed against the provisions of the Factory Acts, the power, after giving three days' notice to the Inspectors, to bring actions in the County Courts, in the nature of qui tam actions, to recover penalties. He hoped the House would do justice to that immense and increasing body of the operatives of this country who worked in factories, and who were increasing, according to the reports of the Factory Inspectors, to the extent of about 25,000 persons annually, by allowing him to introduce this Bill, in order that it might be printed and discussed. An opportunity would then be afforded to hon. Members and to the country generally of considering the details of the measure, and after Easter the House might determine whether, in their opinion, it was calculated to provide an efficient remedy for the evils which undoubtedly existed.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made and Question proposed— That leave be given to bring in a Bi11 to limit the hours of work of females and young persons, in the Factories of the United Kingdom, to ten in the day; and to provide the means of more perfectly inspecting the said Factories.


I rise, Sir, for the purpose of stating very shortly the reasons which induce me to offer my opposition to the introduction of this Bill. If there were any ambiguity in the object of the measure proposed by the hon. Gentleman—if any advantage could be derived from allowing it to be introduced, in order that we might be more fully in possession of the objects which the hon. Gentleman has in view—I should be quite ready to agree that the Bill should be laid upon the table, and that, when we were acquainted with its contents, we should decide whether it should be entertained or not. But there is no such ambiguity about this measure. The hon. Member has stated very explicitly the provisions of the Bill; and he has stated what is perfectly true, that the measure is identical, or nearly identical, with one which he obtained leave on a former occasion to introduce, which the House had an opportunity of considering; but which the House did not seem disposed to sanction. I conceive, under these circumstances, therefore, that the House can come to a decision upon this Bill without waiting until a distant day, and discussing the measure on the second reading. I think that it would be most mischievous to allow a Bill of this nature to be introduced, if the House is not prepared at once to assent to its principle. The interests concerned are of such magnitude that any Parliamentary interference can only be justified by necessity. In former years I thought such necessity did exist, and I gave my aid in passing that law by which the hours of labour of certain specified classes were abridged; but I believe, unless a case of indispensable necessity is established, that interference of this nature cannot fail to be mischievous, and I must contend that the hon. Member for Oldham has made out no case which would justify such an interference as he proposes on the part of this House. Now, what is the case which the hon. Gentleman brings forward? Many of us remember the keen and protracted debates which took place on this subject of factory legislation in years long gone by; we remember the nights which were occupied by the detailed statements of my noble Friend Lord Shaftesbury, who then had a seat in this House, and who brought the question repeatedly under its consideration; and also by the late Mr. Feilden; and we recollect the accounts given of the suffering and injury to which it was contended the classes in question were subjected in consequence of the long hours of labour in factories. We remember, too, the interest which was excited throughout the country with reference to this subject, and I ask hon. Gentlemen to contrast the statements which were then made with the statements the hon. Gentleman has now addressed to the House, and the indications of interest and excitement which were apparent in the country at that time and at the present. Why the only facts stated by the hon. Member are drawn from a period antecedent to the passing of what is called the Ten Hours Bill. When an hon. Member who is anxious to detail the sufferings of the factory population has to go back for statements to 1840, before the Ten Hours Bill was passed, the inference I draw is, that the evils have been remedied, and the House ought to abstain from further interference. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, that great benefits have been derived by shortening the hours of labour as regards women and children. I believe that those beneficial results have arisen not from the mere operation of the Act of 1847, but from the operation also of the Act of 1850, which he now seeks to set aside. He has stated, that under the existing laws women and children have a great deal more time to spend in their own homes, and that parents have greater opportunities of intercourse with their children, but I attribute this, not to the Act of 1847 alone, but to the Act of 1847 combined with the supplemental Act of 1850, which the hon. Gentleman now stigmatises as a fraud upon the operative classes of this country. Let me remind the House what is the state of the case. By the Act 3rd and 4th of Will. IV., chap. 43, it was declared that young children should work in factories no more than twelve hours, between half-past five o'clock in the morning and half-past eight in the evening. By the 10th and 11th of Vict. chap. 39, the hours of labour were reduced to ten, but the fifteen hours still remained, within which those ten hours labour might be rendered. No doubt it was opposed to the intentions and objects of those who introduced the Ten Hours Act, but there was nothing in the legislation—10 & 11 Vict. c. 39—to render a system of relays illegal, so long as no individual woman or young person was subjected to more than ten hours labour in the day. I at that period held the office of Secretary of State for the Home Department, and received innumerable complaints of the operation of that law which the hon. Gentleman calls the "Charter" of these classes, because the anticipations raised by it were disappointed. In 1850 the subject underwent long and anxious consideration. I communicated with the millowners and occupiers, who wished to have a satisfactory settlement of the question, and with those who had been the most strenuous advocates of the working classes and the means of inducing Parliament to abridge their hours of labour. With their consent and concurrence, founded upon the conviction that the proposal was for the interest of the operatives themselves, and expressed privately to me and publicly in this House, that Act was passed. If that had been a measure which could be justly stigmatised as a fraud, they would not have assented to it, and I should not have proceeded with it. I believed it would confer substantial benefits on the working population, and their warmest advocates felt justified in supporting it as the best settlement which could be obtained, and as a security to the working classes of the utmost extent of benefit they could derive from legislation. By that Act the fifteen hours during which the hours of labour might be taken were reduced to twelve, namely from six o'clock in the morning to six in the evening, being identical with a proposition which Lord Shaftesbury on a former occasion submitted to the House. No doubt only one hour and a half being deducted for meals, during five days, ten hours and a half instead of ten hours' labour might be imposed; still, as there were only to be sixty hours in a week, it gave them the whole of the afternoon of Saturday for their own occupations, recreation, and enjoyment. The hon. Gentleman says this Act has worked ill. That is to me quite novel information. Speaking generally, I have received uniform testimony from all persons competent to form an opinion as to its beneficial operation, and I am entitled to say that it has afforded general satisfaction to those for whose benefit it was intended, while the occupiers of mills, almost without exception, have acquiesced in its provisions. Though with respect to any law there will be some transgressions of it, the Act, on the whole, has worked most harmoniously, and has given no occasion to the disputes which before occurred between the millowners and the persons in their employment. I do, therefore, conceive, that it would be most prejudicial to the interests of all parties to reopen this question, and upon the statement of the hon. Gentleman, without any evidence, again to renew those discussions which took place with regard to the Ten Hours Act. I believe the best course for the House to pursue is at once to declare its intention of abiding by the Act of 1850, which has been found to fulfil all the anticipations with which it was passed. The hon. Gentleman says there are persons who violate the law, and the penalties and means of detection are insufficient. I hope the House will mark that the hon. Gentleman said there was only one way in which these infractions of the law could be prevented. And that mode of prevention leads me to the important provision of the Bill by which he proposes now, for the first time, to extend these restrictions, not only to the protected classes, of young persons and children, but to the whole male adult population. The hon. Gentleman says the only effectual plan is to shut up the mills altogether, except during certain hours, and that if the motive power is stopped it will be absolutely impossible for any person to be employed before six o'clock in the morning or after six in the evening in connection with that machinery. But I must beg to ask, is the House prepared, for the first time contrary to its decision on all former occasions, and contrary to the express declaration of those who advocated the interests of the protected classes, to say that no adult operative shall work in future beyond the hour of six o'clock? That is a principle which the House has hitherto refused to recognise, and I hope will refuse to recognise again, as imposing fetters on manufacturing enterprise which may be fatal to the prosperity of the country. The hon. Gentleman proposes to fall back upon the Act of 1847, limiting the hours of labour to ten, and setting aside the arrangement of 1850, without any proof, that the arrangement of 1850 has been productive of any mischief. I am authorised by those who took part in the factory agitation to deprecate this movement as injurious to the interests of those for whom the hon. Gentleman desires to interfere. I trust the House will not consent to disturb the Act of 1850, or apparently sanction the principle of limiting the hours of labour of the adult male population, by allowing this Bill to be introduced, leaving the question in uncertainty, perhaps, until the end of the Session; thereby exciting expectation and creating doubt as to what may be the decision of Parliament upon a case which is fully before them. The House is as competent to say [...]ay or no now, as at Easter, or at the end of the Session, and I hope they will at once express their opinion, and support me in negativing the Motion of the hon. Gentleman.


said, his hon. colleague (Mr. Cobbett) had so ably brought this subject before the attention of the House, that it was matter of surprise he was not to be allowed to go any further into the subject. They had heard not long ago complaints by the possessors of land that land was unequally taxed, and complaints by the possessors of personal property that personal property was unequally taxed; but the possessors of land and the possessors of personal property could make their voices heard in that House, they could speak for themselves. Now his hon. colleague spoke for those who were obliged to appear by proxy, and whose complaints and desires therefore were more worthy of serious and prolonged consideration. He thought the request was in itself most reasonable. The factory operatives asked for a boon which was granted to them some years ago, and the enjoyment of which failed from no fault of theirs, but from the imperfection with which the measure was drawn, or from the effect of other laws with which it was coupled. Their request was simply that the House should put them in real possession of the boon which the Legislature bestowed, or intended to bestow, upon them, and this appeared to him to be a most well-chosen time to bring the subject under discussion. He considered that it was favourable on two accounts; the cotton-mills were working at short time, and the experiment of further limitation of time might, therefore, be tried now without any danger to those whose capital was invested in such undertakings. That was one reason; another was that the Acts of 1847 and 1850, so far as they had been tried, had had a beneficial operation. The inspectors had had an opportunity of canvassing the operatives as to how they regarded the law of 1847, and he thought they must have found that a large proportion of them, though they might have suffered in their wages, prized the time that was put in their possession much more than any amount of wages they might have lost. He was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary express his decided hostility to the principle of the Bill. Now, what was the principle of the Bill? Why, it was the very principle which the right hon. Gentleman boasted of having established, and which that House had again and again recognised and sanctioned in its various measures for the regulation of labour in factories. The right hon. Gentleman objected to any restriction upon the moving power in factories, and he called that the principle of the Bill. It was no such thing; it was not the principle of the Bill, but the means by which his hon. colleague proposed to carry his principle into effect. Surely it was incumbent upon the right hon. Gentleman, if he objected to that means of enforcing the principle, to provide his own means; at any rate not to allow the decrees of the Legislature to remain a dead letter for the want of adequate powers to insure obedience to them. Objection was raised on the ground of an assumed previous consent of the operative classes to the Act of 1850. He denied that any such consent had been given. The consent of Lord Ashley was adduced by the right hon. Baronet in confirmation of that statement; but what was the fact? True it was, Lord Ashley did consent to that interpretation of the Bill, but the immediate consequence of it was the disownment of the act of Lord Ashley by the factory operatives and the transference of their cause to other hands. So that remonstrance rather than acquiescence was given to that portion of the measure which regarded the regulation of the labour of male adults. It might be said that the right to regulate his hours of labour was possessed by every individual adult. But how much was it worth? If an individual operative were to refuse to work unless he obtained his own terms, the effect would be to put himself out of employment altogether. It was only by combined action that they could effectually treat with their employers, and it was only by an united effort that they could hope to give effect to their opinions. The factory operatives had accordingly sought to do this by petitioning the House of Commons. They were willing to bargain for ten hours labour per day, but they did not choose to bargain for more. The most able political writer of the day had referred to this case, as the one in which the many might venture to come to the Legislature, in order to give that force, that reality to their wishes and purposes, as to bargaining for their labour, which they were unable to give in their individual capacity. For these reasons he thought that the House should have a proper, an honourable, a kindly regard to the desires of the great mass of the working people. He thought it would be consistent with their own sense of impartiality to treat the subject with that deliberation which its importance demanded, and he trusted that they would not take the advice of the right hon. Baronet, and throw out the measure without hesitation; but that they would allow the measure to come fairly before the House, and enjoy that full discussion which its importance fairly and justly deserved.


said, he was very much struck with the inconsistency of the argument which the right hon. Baronet (the Home Secretary) had used on the present occasion, and that which he advanced in opposition to the Motion of his right hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Sir H. Halford), when he wished to introduce a Bill for the benefit of the working classes connected with the hosiery trade. On that occasion the right hon. Baronet argued that, because that class of labourers was suffering from other causes as well as from the abuses relating to the hours of labour, therefore the evils complained of by his hon. Friend ought to remain unredressed; that because they were suffering from competition they ought also to suffer from unlimited hours of labour. That was the argument by which the right hon. Baronet induced the House to reject the Bill of his hon. Friend, which had for its object the relief of that portion of the working classes. And now, when the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Cobbett) came forward with a measure to secure to the working classes the benefits of the Ten Hours Bill which had been passed by the Legislature, up rose the right hon. Baronet and expressed a hope that the House would reject it, because it would interfere with adult labour. The principle of the Bill of 1847 was, of course, recognised by the Legislature; but the right hon. Baronet had now endeavoured to induce the House not to enforce that principle. The right hon. Baronet had admitted that the operation of the Bill in limiting the hours of labour, as regarded women and young persons, had been most satisfactory. Who denied it? It had been satisfactory where it had been properly carried out; but the right hon. Baronet was using the law where it had been effectual as an argument to justify the infraction of it; he adduced the benefit which had been felt by a portion of the working classes from a limitation of labour to ten hours a day as a reason why that benefit should not be extended to all. The right hon. Baronet had not the hardihood to deny the abuses which had taken place, but even while admitting that there had been gross infractions of the law, he had endeavoured to persuade the House to extend the shield of its authority over the guilty parties. He trusted, however, the House would not in the excitement of a foreign war, allow its attention to be diverted from all other subjects, and particularly the very important one then under consideration. The right hon. Baronet had said that the people were contented with the Act of 1847. True, they were content with its principle, but proofs had been adduced, Session after Session, that the law was evaded, and the working classes had called upon the Legislature to consider what means might be adopted that should give effect to the law which should be at once salutary to the working classes and beneficial to the manufacturers who employed them. He remembered, when the Act of 1847 passed, they were told that one-sixth of the exports of manufactured cotton would be struck off; and yet, year after year since that time, millions upon millions had been added to this production of that manufacture. So great, indeed, had been the productive powers of this country in that branch of manufacture that every market was glutted; and it was at such a time that the right hon. Baronet endeavoured to persuade the House to reject this Bill.


said, the hon. Gentleman had not quite correctly represented what he had said. He did not say there had been gross infractions of this law, for although he was well aware that almost every law would be violated, generally speaking, this law had been well observed.


said, that the supporters of Lord Ashley's Bill were taxed with having admitted the principle of the limitation of adult labour, but in fact that principle had been always repudiated by them; and though the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Newdegate) said that it was the bonâ fide intention to make ten hours universally the limit of work in factories, yet he was sure that there was no such intention. If the proposal of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Cobbett) for the stoppage of mills after a certain number of hours was carried out it would work great hardship on the factories in his part of Scotland, where most of the mills were worked by water power, which was not always available, and especially in winter, and the practical effect would be that such mills would most probably only work six hours a day. With regard to the women and children in factories in his part of the country, they were generally in as good health as those employed in agricultural and domestic occupations.


said, he could speak from experience of the benefit of legislation on this subject. He had for sixteen years attended a factory at six o'clock every morning, and long before any factory legislation he was convinced that twelve hours a day was too long for women and children to work, and the town with which he was connected had shortened their hours of labour before the law came into operation. The system of relays had been tried in Lancashire, though not as far as he knew in Yorkshire, and it had caused great hardships on those persons who were waiting till their turn for work came on. The alteration to ten hours and a half during five days in the week and seven hours and a half on Saturdays, had enabled the people to go home at two o'clock, and had made the number of hours per week sixty instead of fifty-nine, and though there was, therefore, only one hour a week difference between the old and the new plan, if the proposition of the hon. Member for Oldham had been to go back to the old plan he would have voted with him; but his Bill went to the stopping of the motive power at a given time, and he believed you could not do that without causing a great deal of suffering to the labourers themselves. He objected to any legislation for male adults, who were quite able to take care of themselves.


said, the principle of this Motion was akin to that of the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Sir H. Halford) the other day, and he objected to that principle generally. The hon. Member for Oldham had argued that it would be better for women and children to work ten hours a day instead of twelve. Of course it would, and he only wished that they could work only eight hours. This question ought to be considered in the interest both of the employer and the workman; but he would take it as regarded the workman only, and looking only to that, he thought the true principle was, that the workman should be at liberty freely to contract to work for such a length of time as would ensure him good wages. He, therefore, trusted the House would reject the Bill.


said, he would only make one or two observations on the Motion before the House. The hon. Member for Oldham proposed to disturb a question which most reasonable and patriotic people had hoped was settled for a very long time, if not for ever. The hon. Gentleman appeared to have two objects in view. He proposed to diminish the time of working, not, as the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Crossley) said, by one hour, but by two. He (Mr. Bright) was not able to see the difference which was said to be made by the arrangements of the Saturday under the Bill of 1847; but he took it that instead of sixty hours a week it was to he fifty-eight. The whole matter, then, in dispute was two hours in the week. This question had been much discussed in that House and in the country, and in that House it had been treated as a party question with more than ordinary bitterness, and in the country it had been made a question in which men were hot and fierce in their mutual denunciations of each other. In 1850 the question was understood to have been settled by one of these compromises by which many questions were settled in that House—Lord Ashley being a party to it on the one side, and a large number of the manufacturers on the other. The hon. Member for Oldham said that Lord Ashley was disowned by those who had previously given him their confidence. It was quite true that certain persons had pledged themselves to an agitation, and felt that the object they had contended for was not actually and literally fulfilled; but he (Mr. Bright) did not believe for a moment that anybody in Lancashire would say the factory workers disowned Lord Ashley in consequence of the part he had taken in that Bill. And more than that, he was perfectly sure, being himself an opponent of that Bill, but not on the paltry consideration of the slight gain of those few hours a week, that Lord Ashley did that which the most educated and best informed of the factory population believed to be the best for their case. It was something, surely, to obtain, that a large number of the manufacturers and spinners who had opposed that Bill should agree to its settlement on any terms whatever. There was no person connected, as a capitalist, with the cotton, woollen, silk, or flax trades, that had ever proposed in any way to disturb the fundamental principle of that Act, or to hinder its operation. Was it not better for that House and for the factory workers, to have a law of sixty hours a week, which men agreed generally to abide by and not to disturb, than to have attempts again made which might, after a few years, be successful, or might fail speedily, to obtain a law of fifty-eight hours a week, at the cost of disturbing all the harmony which now, happily, existed upon this question, in spite of what the hon. Member for Oldham said, among the capitalists employing and the employed population of Lancashire? He did not think there was any man, without strong partisan views, who would not agree that it was better to allow the question to settle where it was, than to stir up in the manufacturing districts the fires of discord, a thousand times more perilous and pernicious than any grievance of two hours a week could be. The hon. Member had another proposition, that the steam-engine should be stopped at a certain time, so that not only no woman or child, but no grown-up man, should work beyond that hour! But there were many cases in which more than one trade was carried on in a mill, and the mill was occupied by more than one firm. There was often, perhaps, one room in a mill where the machinery, worked by the same steam power, differed entirely from that of the other rooms, and was worked by a different class of workpeople, and by adult men. Did the hon. Member mean to ask the House, under the pretence of legislating for women and young persons, to stop the steam-engine and all those workmen—for, without opening a door to the widest evasion, no exception could be made? Did he mean to ask the House to shut up that mill, where A B, employing only adult men, was on a separate floor from C D, and using the same power,—must they all be brought under the same law? Much had been said of the advantages which had accrued to the working classes from the diminution of their toil by one hour or an hour and a half in the day—advantages which he (Mr. Bright) would not deny, to those who were temperate and well disposed, as the great bulk of them were. But the hon. Member had made out no case for such an extreme measure as this, which would hinder the working of some hundreds of thousands of adult men. There were many cases now in his recollection in which it would have that effect. The hon. Member had said that this was a convenient time to try such experiments as he proposed, because the cotton trade was not very brisk now. Why, one would have thought that a condition of languor and partial exhaustion was not the time for a wise physician to try the endurance of his patient. There were, unfortunately, times when adult men worked not more than six hours a day, because the Australian, or the Indian, or the home market, had happened to fail. But would a paternal legislature, because those men now worked short time, at reduced wages, to the loss of their families, say to those grown-up, intelligent men who had families to care for, and who were anxious to maintain their independence, when a revival of trade came, that they should not be permitted to recover their position by working a single hour in the day longer than the ten hours prescribed to them? Why, if he (Mr. Bright) set up for a patriot and tribune of the people, he would have a better principle and better objects to advocate than those. Whenever he met his constituents, he had always said about this Bill, that he always disapproved of such legislation as extremely perilous, whatever good it might do; but that since the question had been settled by a judicious compromise and compact, which Parliament were resolved to maintain, he would not abet, in any way, any Motion to disturb the settlement of 1850; and he had always found that answer satisfactory in Lancashire. Now, he would assert, from his knowledge of those districts, that the masters themselves were disposed to carry out that Act in a manner which exceeded, he believed, in their duty to the law, what was found with regard to any other Act that ever was forced upon any persons, of so unpalatable a character. He regarded this as a most unfortunate proposition, chiefly because it disturbed that harmony which he should be the last to interfere with. He had been a strong opponent of the present law; but he would not be the man to move or second any Motion having for its object to disturb the duration of labour fixed upon by the Bill of 1850. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary or to anybody else, in support of his declaration, that if he considered the vast interests involved, the technicalities of that law, the insulting nature of the inspectorship carried on, in a most insulting manner, by the most injudicious servant which the Government could have to carry out the intentions of Parliament—he spoke, and he had no wish to conceal the name, of Mr. Horner—yet, under all the insolence and annoyance of that gentleman's character, he maintained that law had been carried out by the manufacturers of Lancashire and Yorkshire in a spirit as complete and as fair as Parliament could have expected. He did not believe—he said it conscientiously and frankly—that there was the slightest necessity, upon any ground, for asking Parliament to reopen this question, and to stir up again those elements of discord which if he thought were to be stirred up, and worked out to their dangerous results, he would himself be glad to leave the country, and to live somewhere else, where labour and capital were allowed to flight their own battle on their own ground, without legislative interference.


said, he thought that the observations which had just fallen from the hon. Member for Manchester, did not tend in the slightest degree to lessen the force of those facts and those statements which had been put forward by the hon. Member for Oldham. That hon. Member had not come to ask the House for a revival of the law—he had simply come to state that the existing law had not been observed; and in support of that statement he had produced the reports of the inspectors to demonstrate that the law had been violated, while he had also informed the House that no less a number of petitions than 1,083 had been presented to have the law of 1850 fully carried out. The poorer classes complained of the violation of the law, and were they, he would ask—the representatives of the people—to turn around upon the poor, and tell them that they would not lend an ear to their complaints? The hon. Member for Oldham merely asked for leave to bring forward a certain proposition for their consideration, and to lay the case of the manufacturing classes fairly before the House. Neither the hon. Member nor the petitioners sought for re-legislation upon the subject—they merely asked that the law, as it stood, should be observed; and in his opinion it would be by no means satisfactory to the country that they should repudiate, the claims of their poorer fellow-subjects. The hon. Member for Manchester had made so many various prophecies which had been so entirely falsified by the result, that he thought it would be rather an amusing occupation to enter into an examination of those prophecies. From 1847 to 1850 there had been considerable opposition offered to legislation upon the subject of factories; and the hon. Member for Manchester had then, among other things, stated that he could not conceive anything more dreadful than to practise such a delusion upon the operatives as was sought to be practised through the medium of a measure which, instead of conferring upon them a benefit, would be the means of causing, as far as regarded them, greater evils than any measure which that House had ever entertained. Such had been the prognostication of the hon. Member for Manchester before the Bill of 1850 had come into effect; and what, notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman's prophecy, had been the result of that measure? He found that the result had been, in the case of the cotton manufacture alone, an increase in the first year after the alteration of the law had been made, of from 350,000,000 lb. to 591,000,000 lb. in the consumption of cotton; while in the next year the quantity consumed had amounted to 648,000,000 lb. But it was not the amount of cotton alone that was to be taken into account in calculating the results of the measure of 1850. He found, that under the operation of that measure, the number of power-looms had increased from 115,182 to 298,916, and that they still continued to increase, notwithstanding the prognostications of ruin and devastation as to the consequence of any alteration in the law of the hon. Member for Man- chester. He also found that the number of new factories constructed since the passing of the measure of 1850 amounted to 255, and that fact, as well as the others to which he had called the attention of the House, seemed to demonstrate the advantages which must result from carrying the law as rigorously as possible into effect. The House ought not, therefore, to hesitate to take into its consideration a question which intimately concerned the wellbeing of numbers of the poorer classes in the community. To do so would be an insult to the poor, a disgrace to the country, and would cast a stigma upon the House itself.


said, that one of the grounds upon which the proposition of the hon. Member rested was, that the law, as it now stood, was grossly violated. Now, it was his duty, when he held the office of Home Secretary, to watch the enforcement of this particular law; and he was bound to say that, although there were many instances in which some small violations of the law took place, still those violations were very small in amount, and they were carefully watched by the inspectors. Many of the violations were, that some steam-engine began to work five minutes too soon, or continued to work five minutes too long in the evening, and some little odds and ends in that way; and although he did not say that advantages were not unduly gained by those who adopted those means, still they were not such instances as could be put forward as violations which should induce the House of Commons to alter the existing law. There was evidently a great distinction between the restrictions placed upon the hours of work of females and young persons and male adults, and the principle upon which Parliament had acted in legislating upon the subject had been that persons of tender years could not properly be considered as free agents, and that it was necessary, therefore, to restrict their hours of labour; but that with respect to adult men, who were perfectly competent to take care of their own interests and to make their own bargains, there could not be a more vicious principle than that of the House of Commons interposing between labour and capital, between the employer and the employed, and saying that a certain limit should be fixed, and should not be transgressed upon any account, either by the willing labourer or willing employer. He thought such a principle both vicious and wrong, and should be sorry that that House should so far encourage the establishment of this principle as to allow the hon. Gentleman, after the full explanation he had given of his Bill, to introduce it merely for the purpose, as he could not doubt, of seeing it rejected on the second reading. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) that when the House had come to a settlement of a great question involving the interests and feelings of large classes of people, and when, after long debate and much anxious discussion, a system had been established, it was unwise to disturb that compromise, except upon very much stronger grounds than those which had been put forward by the hon. Member who proposed to introduce the present Bill, and he should, therefore, certainly give his vote against the introduction of the measure.


in reply, denied that any compromise had been entered into by the factory workpeople in 1850—they were no parties to what had been called the "Compromise Act;" but, so far as they had time to do it, had protested against it in every form. At the time when the announcement was made in the House by the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey), which was early in May, 1850, the delegates of the working people were assembled in London, and he (Mr. Cobbett) would read to the House a Resolution come to by them on learning that Lord Ashley had given his assent to the right hon. Baronet's proposal for a Ten-and-a-half Hours' Bill. The paper was in these words— 2, Northumberland Court, Strand, London, "May 8, 1850. It having been communicated by Lord Ashley to the factory delegates now assembled that he has determined to accept the Government proposition, it was unanimously resolved by the delegates—'That the delegates now assembled are of opinion that the factory workers will never consent to any variation from the limitation of ten hours per day and fifty-eight hours per week, unless it be to further shorten the duration of labour.' THOMAS PITT, Chairman of the delegates. There was, then, no compromise on the part of the working men, because the proposition was repudiated by their delegates in London as soon as it was announced, and Lord Ashley's adhesion to it was condemned in the paper that he had just read to the House. Besides this, petitions against the so-called compromise came in from all parts of the manufacturing districts, praying the House not to pass the Bill. One petition came from masters alone, signed by a large body of employers of working people, earnestly entreating the House not to interfere with a measure that had worked so well. The masters, the clergy, the merchants, and other inhabitants of Bradford, petitioned to the same effect. Three hundred over-lookers of Manchester did the same. In short, the working people and a very large body of masters and others protested against that Bill, which the right hon. Baronet and the hon. Member for Manchester now insisted was a compromise to which the working people themselves were parties. He (Mr. Cobbett) had never been able to discover who, if there were a compromise, had acted the part of go-between—who it was that had been the parties to the arrangement. The Earl of Derby distinctly asked the question in another place, but failed to make the discovery. He (Mr. Cobbett), however, had read a curious passage in a speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, made at a meeting of his working constituents in Manchester on the 8th of June, 1852. The hon. Member was on his rounds previously to the general election, and the working people catechised him rather strictly upon the subject of his invariable opposition to factory legislation, whereupon the hon. Member made the statement that he would now read— The short hours of labour having been agreed to by a compromise, to which he as well as Lord Shaftesbury were parties, he was no longer an opponent, but was willing to do everything in his power that the law should have a fair trial. This passage he took from The Times of the 12th of June, 1852, and it occurred to him at once that the secret was now out; that we now knew who the compromisers were—namely, the hon. Member himself and Lord Shaftesbury—but did they obtain the assent of the working people?


here explained, that all that he had meant upon the occasion alluded to was, that he acquiesced in what had been done by others. A Secretary of State, he presumed, was the mediating party.


thought that as the hon. Member spoke so positively of a compromise, and of the very parties to it, he must know something more of the manner of bringing it about than he now professed to do; and he (Mr. Cobbett) had been driven to the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman who spoke of himself as a "party" to the compromise with Lord Shaftesbury was what he represented himself to Ids constituents to be—one of the parties who effected that which was now called a compromise, but in which the working people were certainly no parties at all. All that he wished now to do was, to get back for the people what had been taken from them in 1850—namely, the half hour per day; and he wished also to make that secure to them by various provisions for ensuring the means of thorough inspection of the mills. He wished, in short, to make it—what the late Mr. Bolling said it should be—a tight Bill, and he thought he had said enough to show that even manufacturers themselves considered that nothing but a restriction on the moving power could accomplish this. He was not, however, obstinately bent on thrusting this Bill on the House. He wished it to be read a first and second time, and thoroughly discussed clause by clause in Committee, and if the House thought any clause uncalled for or too stringent, let it be struck out. He would not abandon the Bill, even though the clause restricting the moving power should be struck out; but let the whole Bill be discussed. The hon. Member for Manchester had pointed out certain cases where this clause would interfere with the labour of adults working in the same building. The hon. Member had not seen the clause: how could he know what he asserted? There were exceptions made in it to obviate such cases, and such exceptions would be easily extended. The hon. Member had also deprecated the revival of the bitter discussions that had already characterised factory debates. He (Mr. Cobbett) remembered that there had been great bitterness displayed on the subject of limiting the labour of females and children so as to be compatible with their strength, and it surprised him that such a subject should excite bitterness in any quarter, and he did not think it would occur again if the hon. Gentleman himself would deal with it in a more temperate manner than he had done. He (Mr. Cobbett) promised that in any future discussion on the same subject he would treat it as he had hitherto done, without any bitterness of feeling or intemperate language, and he hoped the hon. Member for Man- chester would condescend to take a lesson from him.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 101; Noes 109; Majority 8.