HC Deb 02 July 1856 vol 143 cc210-24

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to be made to Question [5th June], "That the Bill be now read a second time;" and which Amendment was to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.


said, he should be the last person to stand in the way of any enactment which might be considered requisite for the protection of the working classes against sordid capitalists, or for the improvement of their social state. Rightly or wrongly, Parliament appeared to have abandoned the principle of noninterference between masters and their servants, and he was ready to admit that there might be practices in some parts of the country connected with the bleaching and dyeing trade which required the interference of the Legislature, but further he could not go. He deprecated proceeding with a Bill of this importance at such a late period of the Session, as it would inevitably have to go before a Select Committee, and Parliament would probably adjourn in three or four weeks. He did not like the mode in which the evidence was got up in the case. The hon. and learned Member for Youghal (Mr. I. Butt) had said on a former occasion that the masters in Scotland were almost unanimous in favour of the Bill; but the masters on the east coast had generally petitioned against it, and he (Mr. Baxter) had read a letter from a gentleman who was otherwise favourable to factory legislation, deprecating its passing. Moreover, a large section of the operatives in Scotland had petitioned against it. The Bill proposed to deal with all works for bleaching and dyeing in a similar manner; whereas, the circumstances and practice were as different as possible in various parts of the country—at least in Scotland. On the east coast of Scotland the occupation was the most healthy in which the operative could be engaged. The number of hours in which the operatives worked were not more than the Bill proposed. Linen bleaching depended greatly on the state of the weather, part of the processes being carried on in the open air. A long frost or a long drought, or heavy rains, rendered the water turbid, and stopped the operations; therefore, if work was to be stopped at a particular hour, great, loss would accrue to all parties. Mr. Tremenheere, partial as his testimony was, bore witness to that fact. The conclusion from these considerations was that, unless the hon. and learned Member (Mr. I. Butt) was to undertake the control of the elements and the action of chemical bodies, he would withdraw the Bill, a Bill which, if it was carried, would inflict very great injury on an important branch of trade. The workpeople would not thank the hon. and learned Member for several provisions in his Bill, especially that which changed the hour of commencing work in the morning from seven o'clock, at which it now stood, to six o'clock. A careful perusal of the Bill caused him (Mr. Baxter) to conclude that its effect would be to substitute male for female labour, and to drive into towns the great bulk of the cottier population. Under those circumstances, and looking at the impossibility of giving the Bill that careful consideration the subject demanded, he hoped it would not be persisted in on this occasion.


said, that the hon. Member who had just sat down had made the most unwarrantable assertions with respect to the Report of Mr. Tremenheere. What right had he to assume that Mr. Tremenheere had been careless, or actuated by partial motives in drawing up that Report? The real question was, whether they should do anything for the operative classes in the country? No one could depend on the masters to supply the place of legislation. The Legislature had already interfered, in the same way with regard to cotton, why should they be precluded from interfering in the case of linen? If the masters objected to the Bill, why did they not propose some measure themselves? If the Bill was drawn up by those not conversant with the trade, why did not they, if they were sincere in their wishes to protect the operatives, make a proposition for that purpose?


said, that if the people in the bleaching works were in a bad position, he should be one of the first to assist them in obtaining a change. These operations were chiefly carried on out of doors, and when in-door operations were necessary, they were always carried on in a well ventilated atmosphere. In the county he represented the people worked in summer from six to six, and as the season advanced, from seven to seven, with time for meals, and in no case did they work more than sixty hours a week. They were well housed, well clothed, and there was, in his opinion, no occasion for legislation on the matter. He should oppose the Bill in every way, as being uncalled for.


said, he hoped the House would allow the Bill to go into Committee. The hon. Gentleman who had spoken in opposition to the Bill had carefully abstained from informing the House as to what was going on in the interior of the bleaching works. He would remind the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) that in his works he was bleaching, not linen, but the blood of boys and girls.


, Sir, having, some time ago, bestowed considerable attention on this subject, perhaps the House will allow me to offer a few remarks upon the Bill now under consideration. I do not see much use, I must confess, in persisting in it at this late period of the Session, for, after what has already passed, and the attention which has been given to the question, it would be very unfortunate if the House were to come to a hasty decision upon it. The question was very fully considered in 1845, when it was introduced with all the advantage and zeal of Lord Shaftesbury, then Lord Ashley, and it was at that time my duty officially to give to it the most anxious consideration. I thought that there was a difference to be drawn between factories and bleaching works. I argued the matter at great length with Lord Shaftesbury, and he yielded to the reasons which I brought forward, and the Legislature' did draw a distinction between bleaching works and factories. The Bill we are now discussing does not altogether correspond with the Report of Mr. Tremenheere, but, even if it did, there is on the face of that Report an error so grievous and so palpable that I question whether it should recommend itself to us on that account. In matters of this sort it must be admitted, I think, that the minimum of interference is the maximum of wisdom. Bills of this kind are drawn in two ways—either in ignorance of the particular trade affected, when injuries not contemplated are very often inflicted on the trade, or else craftily by persons interested in the trade, who have some peculiar way of doing business which they seek to favour by the aid of the Legislature, in order to obtain advantages over their competitors. I therefore view all measures of this kind with extreme jealousy. I fully admit the duty which lies upon us of protecting the health, the happiness, the comfort, and the wellbeing of the labouring classes; but if you make a mistake in this kind of legislation—if you should cramp and fetter that branch of trade to which you are directing your attention, you will in the long run inflict evils of the greatest magnitude upon those whom you wish to serve. It is admitted that the bleaching trade is exposed to the most severe competition with foreign rivals, and that it requires all the skill and energy of the British manufacturer successfully to contend against that competition. Just as in a race where two horses of exactly equal powers are to run—if you put 31b. extra on one of them his defeat is certain, so it is with regard to this trade. Mr. Tremenheere admits the keenness of this competition, but, while he states most distinctly that if you follow his advice the additional cost of production will be 10 per cent, and the addition to the selling price 1 per cent, he maintains that this is a very trifling matter indeed, and would have no effect. Now, Sir, that is so astounding a proposition in a matter of trade that I, for one, cannot consent blindly to follow Mr. Tremenheere as guide. If the effect should be as he states—to add 10 per cent to the cost of production—I predict at once that by such hasty, wild, and extravagant legislation you would insure the success of our foreign rivals in this branch of trade. Then we are asked on the 2nd of July, to read this Bill a second time, though the House of Lords will not receive a Bill which has to be read a first time after the 22nd of July; I, therefore, consider that it would be the height of rashness for this House to legislate on this subject, relying only on the Report of Mr. Tremenheere; and it would neglect its duty if it failed to institute an inquiry of its own. We ought to have a Select Committee upon the subject, and, as it would be a delusion to appoint one this Session, I think it better that the second reading of this Bill should be postponed, on the understanding that a Select Committee shall be appointed at the commencement of next Session to inquire into the whole subject. The peculiarities of this trade are so great that I believe it differs from the cotton, wool, flax, and indeed all other manufactures. The work, when once begun, must be continued; it is not like manufacturing by machinery where you can stop on Monday night and go to work again on Wednesday morning; when once you have begun you must finish your work, unless you wish to lose all the benefits of your labour. The demand, too, is not continuous, it occurs only about three times in the year. It would be a waste of time, however, to pursue this argument any further on the present occasion; I hope, however, that the House will not proceed with the Bill in the present Session, for I am sure that its promoters, sincerely desirous as they are to benefit the working classes, will not be advancing their own object if they persist with it at present.


said, he should support the Motion for the second reading of the Bill. He held this opinion, that if we looked forward to a good understanding between all classes of this country, they must affirm this principle, that no class of persons should be permitted to sacrifice the health of families and young children in the race of competition. He held strongly that it was the duty of the State to extend the trade and manufactures of this country by all legitimate means; but he maintained at the same time that it was the duty of the State to interfere to save the lives and health of those who could not protect themselves. He did not admit the argument that because it could be pointed out that certain restrictions on the labour of young children might impede the success of trade, the Legislature had a right to deny to families the protection of the State. They might depend upon it, that nothing the Legislature had done had so promoted a good feeling in this country amongst the working classes, as in extending protection to those who could not help themselves. Upon every opportunity that presented itself he was determined to support an inquiry into the applicability of these principles; but, at the same time, he would appeal to the hon. and learned Member who had charge of the present Bill, whether it might not prove the sacrifice of a good measure if he proceeded with it at an improper time. He did not see how it was possible to give it the attention it deserved, or to protect themselves from the charge of hasty legislation. He therefore hoped the measure might be postponed until the next Session.


said, he had hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. I. Butt) would have stated the course he intended to pursue. Representations were made to him (Sir G. Grey) at the close of last Session, and at the beginning of the present, by persons interested in the trade, that the inquiry conducted by Mr. Tremenheere was not satisfactory, and urging that another inquiry would be necessary. The hon. and learned Gentleman who had charge of the Bill then proposed a Select Committee, but the lateness of the Session interfered with its appointment. He thought that to go on with the discussion now would be a waste of time, and he trusted the hon. and learned Gentleman would take advantage of the advice which had been tendered to him, and withdraw his Bill for the present. He thought it would be more advantageous to take the advice of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) and ask for a Committee next Session. That was certainly the course he ought to take, if he wished his measure to succeed.


said, he should have attached considerable importance to the appeal which had just been made to him by the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, if he did not recollect that about the same time last Session a similar appeal was made to him from the same quarter, and in reference to the very same Bill. [Sir G. GREY: Yes, but you did not follow my advice.] The Bill was founded upon the fullest inquiry, and had been most carefully prepared, but from time to time its progress had been obstructed by one party or another. It was then proposed to him that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, and thinking that would get rid of the opposition, he assented to the proposition; but the opposition had still been kept up, and it certainly was not he who was responsible for the Bill coming on at that late period of the Session. Now, how stood the case? Why, in 1854, a Bill, nearly identical with the one under consideration, passed the House I of Lords and came down to that House, when the Government proposed that it should be withdrawn and the subject inquired into during the autumn by a Royal Commission. That course was taken, the Bill was withdrawn, a Royal Commission was appointed, and last year he brought in a Bill founded upon the Report of that Commission, which Bill was only rejected by a very small majority. Early in the present Session he re-introduced the Bill with some Amendments, and now, at nearly the close of the Session, having been put off day after day, he was for the second time requested to give way in favour of inquiry. The accuracy of the Report made by the Royal Commissioner was impugned by the Government who appointed him; and now it was said the proper tribunal for inquiry was a Select Committee of that House. It should, however, be remembered that in the meanwhile the sufferings of the poor people whom the Bill was intended to relieve were going on; but still he was entirely in the hands of the House, and it was for the House to decide whether he should go on with the Bill forthwith, or withdraw it with a view to the appointment of a Select Committee. He entirely dissented from the opinion taken by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), that the House ought to pause before it consented to the measure, as they might be doing mischief, instead of good; previous legislation in the factory direction having, it was believed, produced more mischief than benefit. He had the highest respect for the opinions of the right hon. Baronet, but he could not help recollecting that the right hon. Baronet had been at times completely wrong in some of his strongest predictions as to results of particular Acts of Parliament; and he believed that the right hon. Baronet in the present instance would be found to be in error. He did not believe that the manufacturing superiority of this country depended upon the excessive hours of labour extorted from women and young children, in an atmosphere heated to 130 degrees; and he entirely differed from those calculations which asserted a large increased cost on the manufactured article if some such measure as the Bill before the House was passed. If the House did not consent to read the Bill a second time it would be received as an intimation by the working classes that the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) was to be acted upon, and that no further legislation was to take place on this or similar questions. However, if he withdrew the Bill, he could promise those poor people that no exertion should be wanted on his part to pass it next Session; and even if he did not succeed then, he would still undertake that, so long as he had a seat in that House, so long would he continue his efforts to obtain justice for them at the hands of the Legislature.


said, he must beg to explain that he had not said that that Mr. Tremenheere was an unsafe guide, because he had said that the course recommended would add 10 per cent to the cost of production and 1 per cent to the price, but because he had said that this addition was a matter of no consequence.


said, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. I. Butt) had had sufficient experience as to following the advice of pretended friends. He never would find anything in that House, unless; he forced his Bill, except a predominant desire that capital should succeed at the expense of human life. He would remind the hon. and learned Gentleman of this, that when the Bill was before the House on a previous occasion, it was evident to him that there was a desire on the part of many Members of that House to revert to the slave trade, in order to add to capital. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had said that the maximum of wisdom was the minimum of interference. No doubt such was the case as far as money-getting went, but as far as human life went, it was exactly the reverse. By the manufacturing system, as at present carried on, the sense of parental affection was almost annihilated, and all this for the purpose of getting money. Children were expended as cattle were expended upon a farm. Why, on a recent occasion, did we eat so much American dirt? Simply because a fourth of our exports went to America. In order to keep up that trade we submitted to be kicked; and, to keep up the advantages of the bleaching trade, we sacrificed poor children's lives. He would strongly advise the hon. and learned Gentleman to persevere with his Bill. Committees and Commissions would beat him if he relied on them, and he would, therefore, say to him, "go to a division." He believed that the majority of the Members of that House knew nothing of the evils that resulted from the bleaching trade.


said, he understood that a primâ facie case for inquiry had been made out, and that then Government took steps for the appointment of a Commission. The Report from that Commission was made last year. That circumstance, however, did not weaken the primâ facie case for inquiry. Indeed, it made it so strong, that there was not a Member of that House who would say that they ought not to legislate upon it. The Government told the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Youghal that next Session he must move for a Committee. If he did so they would then tell him he must bring in a Bill in order to show what he wanted to do. Now, all that was a wrong mode of proceeding, for it was imposing delays which ought not to be allowed in such a case. If Government were not satisfied with the Report of the Commission, why not appoint another?


said, that in the amusing hands of the hon. Member for West Surrey everything appeared to become new, and when, therefore, he gave utterance to a fallacy long since exploded, it appeared a new thing that had never been ventured on before. On the present occasion he appeared before the House as a friend of labour, and talked of the antagonism between capital and labour. Now, he thought that the hon. Gentleman should have learned one thing, namely, as to the persons who received the most from the increase of capital. The hon. Gentleman had not hesitated to compare the abominations of the slave trade with that great manufacturing industry which had conferred more upon this country than anything during the last century. Then he said that the House of Commons was influenced by the master manufacturers, and not having the labouring classes represented, took no steps to protect those who lived by labour. Had they passed no Factory Bills during the last ten years? At whose suggestion were they passed? Were they carried in deference to the wishes of the master manufacturers or in opposition to them? No doubt in opposition to them, and Parliament did not, therefore, listen to the master manufacturers on that occasion. Such men as the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond) were, in his opinion, the real enemies of the working classes, because they sowed the seeds of dissension between masters and men, where happily there might have been peace and combination. The question now before the House stood thus. It was agreed that they were to have a full and searching inquiry into the question, and he would ask whether it was according to common sense that they should read the Bill a second time now, when it was admitted that there was no intention of proceeding with it during the course of the present Session. If they read the Bill a second time, and then, after inquiry, did not put the Bill on the Statute-book, they would be deluding and deceiving the working classes. He was certain that they would secure the good feeling of the working classes by instituting a rigid inquiry.


said, he had taken much interest in the question under consideration, and had personally made himself acquainted with the feelings and the actual condition of the people employed in bleaching works. After the conclusion of the Session of 1853, he visited the districts of England and Scotland in which principally the bleaching works were situated; and in those works he found that persons were working sixteen, eighteen, and twenty hours a day, in a temperature varying from ninety to 130 degrees. He considered that no one could give attention to a more important question, than one affecting the welfare of the productive classes. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had laid it down to the House that the subject had been long since disposed of when he was Secretary of State for the Home Department. If the subject was disposed of, as the right hon. Baronet asserted, it would be better to resist inquiry altogether than to say, as the right hon. Baronet had said, that he was willing to consent to inquiry next Session. There was an almost unanimous desire in that House that an inquiry should take place at the earliest period next Session; and there was this urgent claim for inquiry, that he personally knew, as he had previously stated, of the sufferings of the bleachers. He was present at some bleaching works, at which he was informed that, owing to the heat in what were called the "roasting shops," three young women had been that morning carried out in a fainting state. A master bleacher had told him that the temperature was frequently so high, that the nails in the floors became heated and blistered, that was, burnt, the feet of those who were employed in those rooms, and who were therefore obliged to wear slippers. It had been said by several hon. Members for Scotch constituencies, that the facts were not so had as they had been represented to be. All those hon. Members, however, came from one part of Scotland, and it was possible that in their district the evils complained of did not exist. In Glasgow, Paisley, and other places in the same neighbourhood he had himself witnessed the state of things which he had described. At a meeting held at the last-named town, Mr. Baillie Browne, he believed the chief baillie, had said, that for many years the operative bleachers had been regarded as little more than mere machines, and had expressed his desire that there should be passed a general Ten Hours Bill for the whole country. To confirm these general expressions he (Mr. Cobbett) would read to the House a statement of the hours worked by two young persons during two weeks of the year. During the week from September 26 to October 1, they worked 102½ hours, namely, on the several days, 16, 17, 18, 23, 13½, and 15 hours each. During the next week they worked, on the several days, 19, 17, 21½, 16, 17, and 14½ hours, making for the whole week 105 hours. The temperature of the atmosphere in which they worked was 130°. In the year 1843 there was a Commission appointed to inquire into the employment of young persons, called "the Children's Employment Commission," the Report of which the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) seemed to think had decided against legislative interference in the matter. So far was this from being the case, however, that there was a statement in one of the appendices, that many of the master bleachers would gratefully welcome some legislative restriction as to the hours of work, which would put all upon the same footing, and would enable them to resist the pressure of their customers without giving offence. The fact was, that merchants and manufacturers frequently sent goods to a bleacher to-day, or even in the middle of the night, with an order that they must be finished and returned by twelve o'clock to-morrow. The right hon. Baronet had said, that the process of bleaching, when once commenced, must he continuous, as any interruption of it would spoil the goods. He (Mr. Cobbett) had inquired into this matter, and had been informed that the process might, without damage to the goods, be interrupted at the conclusion of any stage. Very many of the master bleachers were, as he had mentioned, themselves in favour of legislation upon this subject. These masters had written to the Secretary of the Bleachers' Committee at Bolton, distinctly stating that they were in favour of a restriction of the hours of labour in their works, and expressing their opinion that such a restriction would never be carried out without the interference of the Legislature. The question now was, should the hon. and learned Member for Youghal (Mr. I. Butt) take a division now, or would it be more prudent to withdraw the Bill for the present Session. He (Mr. Cobbett) was himself very much in favour of dividing, in order that the House might decide whether bleachers were to be protected by enactments or not. He believed that a large portion of the House was strongly disposed to legislate upon the subject, and such an assurance would be a great comfort to these poor people, who were so anxiously looking for the decision of the House on the question. The withdrawal of the Bill, and the appointment of a Committee next Session, will probably put off legislation until after that Session also, and he should therefore recommend the hon. and learned Gentleman to divide. If, however, he came to a different decision, he (Mr. Cobbett) would suggest that the Committee might be appointed and nominated at once, not that it might proceed to business, but that it might be revived next Session. By the adoption of that course much time would be saved.


said, he had no hesitation whatever in giving such a pledge. He was sure the Government would throw no obstacle in the way of an early appointment of the Committee, and he did not apprehend, from what had passed in the course of the discussion, that there would be any opposition to it on the part of either the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) or the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter). Under those circumstances, he decidedly thought the best course would be to allow the Bill to drop for the present Session, to withdraw all imputations which had been made either on one side or the other, and then at the very beginning of next Session to go into an inquiry of the whole subject with clean hands. At all events, if the Bill were pressed to a second reading now, it would be the duty of the Government to vote against it.


said, he wished to correct an error which the hon. and learned Member for Youghal (Mr. I. Butt) had fallen into. He said the Bill was identical with that which came down from the House of Lords in 1854. Now how could that be so, when the Bill of 1854 made no reference whatever to Ireland. The fact, however, was, that the factory proprietors of Ireland were not at all opposed to reasonable legislation, nor were they in the least averse to inquiry; indeed, he had presented repeated petitions from some of them, praying that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. In its present shape the measure was highly objectionable; its provisions would retard trade, interrupt the progress of manufactures, and lead to considerable mischief. Now there was no necessity for those restrictive clauses, and he hoped the Bill would be withdrawn with a view to its being considered and amended in a Select Committee.


said, he should support the Bill, because he found that the number of hours specified in it comprised as long; a period as any young persons should be obliged to work. No greater mistake, even with a view to their own interests, could be committed by masters than to overwork their people. What was gained; in one way by such a system was more than lost in another by the defective manner in which the work was done. There was no getting more out of a human being than his constitution could fairly yield—that was the fact of it. Manufacturers had a right to employ their operatives for as long a period as was consistent with good health and good work, but not for a moment longer. It was manifest that some, legislation on the question was imperatively required, and, as no case for further delay had been made out, the House would do well to give its immediate sanction to the present measure.


said, that no case of hardship had been proved against the master bleachers in the North of Ireland. The operatives in the North of Ireland were not in favour of legislation of this kind; on the contrary, they had petitioned against the Bill of last year. Though the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Cobbett) had cited some strong instances of hardship in the bleaching works of other parts of the kingdom, it would be unjust to the masters in the North of Ireland to say that such a state of things existed there as to call for legislation.


said, that, although he would gladly have been spared the necessity of going to a division on the present occasion—as he thought it not impossible that some good might result from agreeing to refer the question to a Committee—yet if the hon. and learned Member for Youghal should press the Bill to a division, he (Mr. Walter) should certainly go into the same lobby with him. Not having had the good fortune to be present during the early part of the debate, he would not presume to trouble the House with any speech on the subject; but he felt it necessary to make one observation upon a remark which appeared to him to be the foundation of all objections to such measures as that now under consideration. It was often said, with regard to Bills of this description, that they interfered with the manufactures of the country, but there was one species of manufactures which a certain class of economists were too apt to overlook. He alluded to the 1,000,000 children who were every year added to our population. That was by far the most interesting and important of our manufactures; and when we remembered that upon its character and upon the care taken of it in its infancy depended the future strength and greatness of the nation, we could not doubt that the Legislature would be grossly neglectful of its duty if it did not take care that the youth of the country were so brought up that the developement of their powers of mind and body should not be impeded by that excessive strain upon their system which was the inevitable result of overwork.


said, he objected to legislation on the subject altogether, since the only effect of such legislation would be, not to shorten the hours of labour, but to drive the manufacture from our shores. As to the particular manufacture to which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walter) had referred, till people learned not to overstock the market with the product of their labour, the House could never hope to improve the condition of the working classes.


said, he knew, of his own knowledge, that the workpeople in Ireland deprecated all legislation on the subject. Hand-loom weaving in the north of Ireland was carried on to a great extent in the houses of the people themselves, and he should be afraid to state in that House the number of hours those people worked in their own habitations.


said, he had anxiously considered the subject, but every day's experience had made him more jealous of legislative interference in the matter. Evils might exist, but the remedy for those evils was not that proposed by the Bill. He could bear testimony to the prosperity of manufacturers in the north of Ireland, and he thought that interference, such as that proposed, would be rash in the extreme. He should vote against the second reading of the Bill, but he hoped his hon. and learned Friend would postpone the measure.


said, he should vote for the second reading, and hoped that the hon. and learned Member for Youghal would not withdraw the Bill.


said, he was apprehensive that if the second reading were agreed to, expectations would thereby be excited among the working population which the evidence to be taken before any inquiry would not support, but, on the contrary, dispel.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 65; Noes 109: Majority 44.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second reading put off for six months.