HC Deb 13 May 1858 vol 150 cc531-4

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read a second time."


said, that he must appeal to the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Mackinnon) as to the desirableness of going on with the measure. The object of the Bill was unquestionably good—namely, to provide a means for arranging the differences between masters and workmen by arbitration. By the law, however, as it stood at present, when masters and workmen had a dispute, they could, if they were agreed upon that point, refer that dispute to two justices. Masters and workmen, however, had an unwillingness to put that law into operation, and the law as it stood at present was therefore inoperative. The object of his hon. Friend's Bill was to obtain an operative law to effect the same object which was contemplated by the Act of George IV., but which for the reason he had stated was inoperative. The machinery by which the hon. Member proposed to carry out the objects of the Bill was so unworkable that he hoped he would not persist in pressing it upon the House. The Courts of Conciliation proposed by the Bill were to be chosen by masters and workmen, and he asked the attention of the House to the nature of the constituencies thus created. Every person being an inhabitant householder, employing workmen, within a circuit of five miles from the place where the Council of Conciliation was to hold its meetings, was to be entitled to vote at the election of masters, and every workman residing with in a circuit of five miles for twelve months was entitled to vote at the election of workmen. These were the constituencies by whom an equal number of masters and men were to be elected; and on the day of election the votes were to be taken by a show of hands, from which there was to be no appeal. Now, he asked the hon. Member whether it would be possible with such constituencies, and with such a mode of election, to elect a Council of Conciliation that would give satisfaction to anybody? The whole machinery of the Bill was unworkable, and therefore he hoped that his hon. Friend would see the propriety of withdrawing it altogether, as there seemed to be no possibility of so altering it in Committee as to insure for it the favour of the House.


(who was very indistinctly heard), was understood to say that he thought that as the right hon. Gentleman admitted the object of the Bill to be a good one, he might have allowed it to be read a second time, and proposed such alterations as he saw necessary in Committee. The object of the Bill was regarded with deep interest by thousands of workmen both in London and throughout the country, including all the great towns of Lancashire.


said, he had great respect for the intention of his hon. Friend and the perseverance with which he had endeavoured to benefit the working classes, but still there was no subject more delicate and none with regard to which the House should take more care in dealing than the relations between master and workman. He concurred in the opinion given by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole), that the machinery of the Bill was altogether unworkable. Only imagine a meeting of the inhabitants of a district within a certain radius, in which by a show of hands a Council was to be appointed. It was impossible that such a tribunal could satisfactorily deal with such a delicate question. No man was more anxious than himself to see a good understanding exist between masters and workmen, but he was not so sanguine as some others seemed to be that this end would be promoted by Councils of Conciliation. He would rather see masters and workmen settling their differences by friendly intercourse and the freest discussion among themselves. He hoped his hon. Friend would see the propriety of the course recommended by the right hon. Gentleman, and withdraw the Bill.


said, there was only one point to which he wished to call the attention of his hon. Friend opposite. He agreed with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in believing that the Bill with its present machinery, or anything like it, could not work. Now, if the Bill was negatived, the hon. Gentleman would not be able to introduce another on the subject this Session; but, if he withdrew it, he might, if it was put into better shape, reintroduce it this year. It was a great question whether the evidence of competent persons, skilled in the matter and given on oath, might not enable a magistrate to come to a sound decision in ease of disputes. He doubted very much, however, whether the common sense of masters and workmen would not enable them to settle the differences between them as well as by any machinery for selecting half-a-dozen on one side and half-a-dozen on the other.


, although he joined in the request to his hon. Friend to withdraw the Bill, yet did not think sufficient reasons had been given for the second reading being opposed. When the Bill was brought in, the Home Secretary admitted that the existing law on the subject of masters and workmen required amendment, and that he would support any measure that had that amendment for its object. It was said by the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Labouchere) that there was a great increase in the intelligence and moderation of the working classes, and no doubt that was so; and it only wanted that masters and workmen should be brought together in order to put an end to differences between them; and that would be effected by means of Councils of Conciliation. One thing was most valuable in this Bill, and that was, that it proposed to establish a permanent body to deal with disputes between masters and workmen. The reason why the present Act was inoperative, was, that you could not call upon the magistrate to appoint arbitrators until after the dispute arose. It was then difficult to get an arbitrator sufficiently impartial to decide. If the President of the Board of Trade would give an intimation that he would take into consideration whether some permanent tribunal might not be established to which disputes might be referred, then his hon. Friend might congratulate himself on having done some good for the object he had so long at heart.


, said, that as a pretty large employer of labour, he objected entirely to the Bill, not more on the part of the employers than of the employed. The Bill was, no doubt, prompted by kindly feeling on the part of the hon. Member; but if carried out, it would, in the result, be like interfering between man and wife, and would utterly fail. A growing spirit of conciliation and kindly feeling between masters and men had been for many years springing up, which would only be interrupted by legislation such n, this. As had been shown by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, there were great objections to this measure. Every man who was employed might claim to act as one of the employed; and so every man who employed any one else—a tinker, for example, who had a man to help him—might claim to vote as an employer. Many of these employers would be mere workpeople themselves. Much mischief would, he was sure, be produced by such a scheme.


said, he also felt that the Bill, so far from being for the benefit of the workmen, would be injurious to them, and would produce the worst feeling between them and their employers, whereas at present a very good feeling prevailed. In Ireland, in disputes connected with work which was given out, if a workman complained to a magistrate, the party complaining appointed one arbitrator, the master appointed another, and the magistrate a third; and on their report the magistrate issued his order. The present Bill, he thought, would be especially injurious to the working classes themselves, and he would therefore decidedly oppose its second reading.


said, he could but express his willingness, after what had passed, to withdraw his Bill.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Second Reading discharged.

Bill withdrawn.