HC Deb 04 June 1857 vol 145 cc1176-80

in moving for a Standing Committee, or unpaid Commission, to consider and report, from time to time, oil practical suggestions (free from party differences) to give facilities for improvement in the social condition of the working classes, said, that his proposal, although unusual in form, was founded in justice, but he was induced to make it from having himself sat on a Commission to inquire into the condition of the working classes, when he had become well acquainted with their wants. All he asked was to have a Board to listen to any suggestions which might be made for the benefit of the working and humbler classes, and to adopt such of them as they thought would be conducive to that end. Such a measure was rendered necessary by the great changes which had recently taken place in the position of the humbler classes in this kingdom. The debate which had just occurred had shown what an immense increase there had been of late years in the commerce, the manufactures, and the trade of the country; and surely it was most desirable that measures should be adopted for promoting the welfare of those humbler individuals who, by their activity, industry, and enterprise, had contributed to the national prosperity. He found that within the last half century the increase of population had been at the rate of fifteen per cent every ten years. The increase had been three times as great in the large towns as in the rural districts, and the consequence of this was that in the former the working classes were confined within the narrowest limits, and lived in close courts and other places, which were most injurious to health and morals. There were three causes to which the accumulation of large multitudes of these classes in great towns could be traced. First, the great subdivision of labour, which resulted in increased wealth and power to the higher and middle classes: secondly, the application of steam to our manufactures, which had the effect of transferring a large portion of the population from the southern districts of the country to the districts embracing the coal-beds of the north. While the population in the southern districts had only increased 10 per cent, in the northern parts of England it had increased between 30 and 40 per cent. The third cause was the railway system, which gave great facilities for carrying the raw products of the country to the large manufacturing towns; and, while it consequently brought the poorer classes into the towns, had taken out their natural guardians and protectors, the middle and upper classes. At the eastern end of London, where the people were crowded together in close contact, without any measures being adopted by the authorities for their health and comfort, there were twice as many deaths as there were at the west end, and twice as many widows and orphans. That arose in a great measure from the neglect of those provisions for health and comfort which might be cautiously and gradually carried into effect by the Board he proposed. He did not propose to name the members of the Committee or Board for which he asked. He trusted the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary or the noble Lord at the head of the Government would undertake that task; but he would suggest that it should consist of some Members of that, and perhaps of the other House of Parliament, and of some persons interested in the welfare of the labouring classes. It would only need a secretary or clerk, which would not cause much expense, and he had no doubt that volunteers would be found in that and in the other House of Parliament who would willingly give their time to suggest courses and carry out suggestions, such as he had alluded to. The object which the Board would have to consider would be briefly—First, to remove legal difficulties, and suggest such slight changes in the law as would be necessary for the relief of the poor people who were now in such close contact in different quarters. The principle had been applied already in the Acts to give facilities to raise rates for baths and washhouses, all of which had been carried out by the efforts of benevolent individuals in that House and elsewhere. If they had the advantage of a definite Board or Committee, there would be many who would afford them assistance; and instead of a measure of amelioration being delayed for a quarter of a century, it would be carried into effect in a much shorter time, to the great advantage of a great mass of our humbler fellow-subjects. Such a Board would concentrate the efforts made by benevolent individuals, who would willingly act in concert, if they had direction and assistance. It would report and give means and method to the efforts of philanthropy. He conceived that if they reported in favour of any given improvement, that a certain amount was necessary to be given by donations, that then a large majority would be able to bind a small minority, and be able to carry out that improvement. He believed funds would flow in liberally for such objects if they were only brought forward and directed by a Board. Another object of the Board should be to enforce neglected duties, and point out the means by which those duties to the working classes which are now neglected should be carried out. He felt assured that the working classes would be grateful for any measure such as that which he proposed. The rich had their clubs and botanical and zoological gardens, and those gardens and clubs were supported by small subscriptions, and why could not the same principle be extended to the working classes? There had been a Board of Agriculture, and that had been of great benefit to the landowner. They had a Board of Trade, which had been of great advantage to the commerce of the country; and he now asked for a Board which would be of advantage to the labouring classes. He trusted the noble Lord at the head of the Government would turn his attention to the subject, and give his consent to either a Board or a Standing Committee, by whom evidence on this important subject could be received and digested. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, a Standing Committee, or unpaid Commission, be appointed to consider and report, from time to time, on practical suggestions (free from party differences) to give facilities for improvement in the social condition of the Working Classes.


said, that his hon. Friend had alluded but slightly to his own exertions in former Parliaments on behalf of the working classes, and he wished to bear testimony to the efforts of his hon. Friend to promote the welfare of the working classes; but at the same time, he was bound to consider what would be the practical effect of the plan now proposed. The proposal was not new; it had been brought forward by his hon. Friend in a previous Parliament, and he (Sir G. Grey) had then stated the objections he entertained to it, which objections had been in no degree removed. The proposition for the appointment of a Standing Committee by that House, or a Commission to consider any proposal that might be brought before it for the benefit of the working classes, was not one that if carried into effect, would lead to any good practical result, nor did he consider that it would be advantageous to the object which his hon. Friend had in view, nor was it indeed necessary. His hon. Friend had alluded to various measures, such as the Factory Acts and Lodging-house Act, and had expressed an opinion that those Acts had been retarded by the want of such a Board as he proposed. Now, for his own part, he considered that it was much more desirable that Acts of that nature should be considered separately by a Committee of that House than by a Standing Committee. The House would be unwilling to delegate its functions on such important subjects to any Standing Committee. Besides, no single Committee could be competent to deal with all those subjects in the manner necessary, if their inquiries were to be attended with any practical result. During the present Session a Committee had been appointed on the Motion of the hon. Member for Youghal, to consider the propriety of extending the provisions of the Factory Act to bleaching and dyeing establishments, and he believed that the persons interested in that measure would much prefer the subject being investigated by a Committee of that House than by a Standing Committee or Commission, as proposed by his hon. Friend. The Factory Act and the Lodging-house Act afforded an instance that a Board such as that now proposed was not necessary to induce the House to legislate upon such subjects, and he believed that it would be better to adhere to the practice which had hitherto existed of hon. Members bringing under the notice of the House those matters of this nature in which they took an interest, and moving that they be referred to a Committee of the House. He was afraid, also, that the proposal of his hon. Friend would give rise to expectations which might not be realized, and would thus produce a great amount of disappointment. Experience had shown that the system which had hitherto prevailed, had been conducive to the interests of the working classes; and he hoped, therefore, that his learned Friend would not press his Motion.


said, that after what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, he should not proceed with his Motion,

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.