HC Deb 26 June 1863 vol 171 cc1507-17

Resolution reported, That the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury be authorized to issue, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to an amount not exceeding Twelve Hundred Thousand Pounds, upon security of Local Rates, for facilitating the execution of Public Works in certain Manufacturing Districts.


said, it was the duty of every man to assist in alleviating any general distress, and of course he did not rise to oppose the Resolution; but he ventured to think, that on one or two points of great importance the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board in introducing this subject to the House was deficient. He thought the right hon. Gentleman should have stated somewhat more fully and distinctly what was his opinion with respect to the causes of the present wide-spread distress. It was said by many that a short supply of cotton had been the chief, if not the sole, cause of the distress in Lancashire. He was not prepared to argue that a short supply of cotton had not mainly contributed to the distress; but it had been stated also, with great truth, that much of the distress had arisen from the over-trading and over-speculation which had been indulged in by the millowners in the manufacturing districts. If the distress was partly to be attributed to overtrading, it tended to alter the position of the case, because it was the bounden duty of Parliament, in legislating on a matter of this nature, not to give encouragement to a recurrence of that over-speculation which it was asserted had contributed very much to the state of things which they all so much deplored. He should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman his opinion upon this point. Now, as to the actual condition of the districts where the distress existed, the right hon. Gentleman made no allusion to the comparative state of the poor rates in the distressed districts, and other parts of England. If it could be shown that at this moment the poor rates were much lower in the distressed districts than they were in many other parts of England, it appeared to him that would form a most important element in the case, and one with which the right hon. Gentleman was bound to deal. It was quite obvious, that if the country was to be called upon to avert the existing distress, this point ought to have their most serious consideration. They had been told that during this very distress there had been immense fortunes realized by some of the mill-owners. He thought that was an important element in the question. They were also told that at this moment large sums were being spent in the erection of the same description of mills the stoppage of which had been the cause of this distress. Now, if great distress existed in an agricultural district, and a complaint was made to Parliament on the subject, and if it could be shown that owners and occupiers of the land were in a prosperous condition, and were laying out their capital in the anticipation of revived prosperity, the country would be of opinion that justice was not being done. The right hon. Gentleman had made the startling assertion that no distress or loss had occurred to the agricultural interest in this country from the effects of the recent legislation. He would not enter into the wide field opened up by that sweeping assertion; but he would point out, that when the question of free trade was under discussion, one of the main arguments adopted by the supporters of that policy was that it would benefit the artisans in the manufacturing districts. The spouters and agitators employed by the Anti-Corn Law League promised these men large loaves and great puddings as the inevitable consequence of free trade. He was not going to enter into the question how far these promises had been real- ized; but he would remind the House that after seventeen years' trial of that financial policy they were now assembled to endeavour to adopt measures for the mitigation of a state of extreme starvation and distress amongst those very people for whose benefit especially this financial policy had been adopted. It was also admitted that a large amount of distress existed in other parts of the United Kingdom, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman ought to show that this legislation was not of a selfish character. It would be only just to the other parts of the country to show that there were not other districts equally distressed, equally entitled to assistance. The right hon. Gentleman did not show them clearly that the security for the money proposed to be borrowed was of the satisfactory kind which it ought to be, or whether they might hope that the security was of a character which would lead to the expectation that the money lent would find its way back to the public purse. It was ascertained that there was amongst the great millowners of Lancashire an antagonistic feeling to emigration, because they thought that it would cause, in the event of the revival of the cotton trade, a want of hands. On the other hand, persons better acquainted with the subject told them that emigration was the only remedy, and that they were entitled to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what were his views and the views of the Government on the subject of emigration. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he thought they must ultimately resort to emigration.


said, he was not one of those who thought that the large manufacturers of Lancashire and Cheshire and the operatives in their employment were entirely free from blame. There might have been an excessive pushing forward of manufacturing operations—there had been too much pride of class—the manufacturers might have been too presuming, and fancied themselves of too much importance; and the operatives had manifested too much of the same feeling. There had been a great increase of mills, and trade had been pushed to a great extent; but that was not altogether an evil, nor was the hon. Gentleman opposite to attribute it entirely to free trade. Free trade had no doubt promoted vastly the increase of prosperity amongst the manufacturers of Lancashire and Cheshire, and had immensely contributed to the comforts of the operatives employed. Was that an evil? Employment had been extended enormously, and the operatives, who at one period in his recollection were in a most miserable state of privation, were of late years in a state of comparative wealth and prosperity; the operatives had themselves become capitalists, and had put their contributions together; and to the formation of co-operative societies and the investment of their earnings the increase of manufacturing operations was in a great degree to be attributed. Did the hon. Gentleman suppose that the great manufacturers of Lancashire and Cheshire were the only persons that erected those large mills or extended their operations unduly? The principal establishments had been erected of late years by the operatives themselves through means of co-operative societies, and he had no wish to say a word against anything of the kind. Most of the employers of labour in Lancashire had risen from the ranks, and in the same way the working men of Lancashire had been trying to raise themselves; and if an ample supply of cotton had been obtained, there was no doubt that there would have been ample occupation for them all. The hon. Gentleman was mistaken in supposing that large fortunes had been made by millowners. No doubt, in consequence of the dearth of cotton, there had been large speculations in that article, but there were many other speculators besides the millowners. Ladies, clergymen, and other persons, impressed with the idea that they were going to make their fortunes, gave orders, both at home and abroad, for the purchase of cotton. That, no doubt, was a very wise and legitimate operation. Whoever contributed to the supply of a commodity required, not only might make some profit, but assisted to provide the means of giving employment. He did not think the hon. Gentleman was entitled to make it a subject of taunt that the principles of free trade and the repeal of the Corn Laws had failed to produce the advantages which its main supporters promised would arise from that measure. He had himself been blamed frequently in his own district for not having been one of the great promoters of free trade. He certainly thought the idea was carried too far at that time, but he had lived long enough to see that he was wrong. He believed that free trade had been the means of promoting the interests of the country and the comforts of the working classes to an enormous extent; and were they now to be told—because an exceptional state of things had arisen, and a state of misfortune had come upon them, which could not have been foreseen—that the principles of free trade had not accomplished all that its advocates promised? He thought the measure of the right hon. Gentleman was a wise one; he most cordially supported it, and he did not see that the hon Gentleman opposite had said a word which should, in any degree, affect its passing that House.


said, that no doubt the manufacturers of Lancashire had made very large fortunes, and the operatives themselves had enjoyed very high wages for a considerable length of time; but the hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. A. Turner) must also remember that the present distressed state of things in Lancashire had also resulted from free trade. He did not intend, on this occasion, to discuss the question of free trade; but he was ready to enter the lists on any day with the hon. Member for Rochdale, and to maintain the proposition, that if free trade had done great good, it had also produced many evils, of which the present distress was one. The President of the Poor Law Board, on the 27th of April last, gave the House to understand that the present measure would employ 70,000 male adult operatives in the manufacturing districts, representing the whole of that body. The House had a right to know what employment was to be found for the 400,000 souls who it was said would be in the receipt of relief next winter—because they had since been told that only 27,000 adults would find employment under this Bill, and Mr. Farnall stated that 400,000 persons would probably, during the next winter, be dependent on the poor rates of Lancashire and on the Treasury. He wanted to know why the Bill had not been introduced earlier in the Session—or even last year—and why it had been delayed now. It was rumoured—he knew not with what truth—that the gentlemen of Lancashire had interfered with the Government, and that it was owing to them that the House was so late as the last week of June going into Committee on the Bill. If the Government had done their duty, the measure would have been in force last winter. For thirty years Manchester had, in fact, governed this country, and now the House saw the result as far as Lancashire was concerned. It was only the other day that Mr. George Wilson in a public speech remarked, that with Cobden as traveller, with Bright attending to the outdoor department, and with Gladstone and Milner Gibson doing the work inside, the present Government were doing a roaring business. He bad no doubt, that if the right hon. Gentleman opposite would speak the candid truth, he would admit that it was entirely owing to Manchester that the measure had been so long delayed. He had been requested by the factory operatives to make a statement with regard to the quality of Surat cotton. Mr. Hutchinson, of Blackburn, reported to the Central Relief Committee at Manchester that the loss in the spinners' wages by using Surat cotton, was not more than 2s. per week. The spinners at Mr. Hutchinson's mill, however, had written to state, that for the last four weeks previous to the date of their letter, their earnings had been less by 7s. or 8s. per week. They added— If we go so far back as twelve months our earnings would be from 10s. to 12s. per full week's work less than would have been earned in ordinary times with working American cotton. These working men added that their energies had been more than doubly taxed through working inferior cotton, and that this statement would apply to all other firms in the town and neighbourhood. It had been stated that public subscriptions for the relief of Lancashire distress were at an end. If so, how were the unemployed operatives to live? In idleness? The Corn Laws were repealed by the agency of tumults and violence, and the fear of tumults. Sir James Graham admitted the fact to be so. At that time the operatives were told to "go and play" for a month; they were now told to "go and play" for a whole winter. Under such circumstances, did the right hon. Gentleman think that the peace of Lancashire was safe. It might be too late for the Government to interfere at such a time, but it was not too late for the House of Commons to interpose at the present moment. The remedy proposed by the Government was this miserable Bill. The sum of £1,500,000 was to be raised by the Treasury, but only £460,000 of that was to be paid to the 400,000 unemployed operatives, the rest was to be paid to skilled labourers, such as masons &c. Had the right hon. Gentleman calculated how much would be paid to each of these 400,000 persons? The Bill was in very truth a manufacturers' Bill, drawn up and settled by the manufacturing interest of Lancashire without consulting the working population. He heard already that some of the Town Councils in the distressed districts were quarrelling as to the manner in which this money was to be laid out. He believed that not one-third of £1,500,000 would be spent in any kind of improvement, he had endeavoured to divide the expenditure recommended by Mr. Rawlinson into wet work and dry. Under the title wet work he included:—Main sewers, £400,000; house drains, £150,000; waterworks &c., £50,000; cleansing rivers, £20,000; land drainage, £60,000. Total, £680,000. Under the designation of dry work he in cluded streets, paved with square sets, £250,000; ditto, with boulders, £200,000; suburban roads, £150,000; parks and recreation grounds, £100,000; enclosing wasteland, £10,000; baring rock, £10,000. Total, £720,000. The wet and dry work made a total of £1,400,000, to which was added £100,000 for parks, making altogether £1,500,000. He considered that the operatives were, from their previous habits and want of skill, unfit to undertake the wet work, and in regard to a good deal of the dry work, such as paving the streets with square sets and boulders, skilled labour was imperatively required. It was said that the operatives might be employed in draining, and it was stated in that House that Mr. Tollemache, one of the Members for Cheshire, was employing a large number of cotton operatives on his land at Mottram and Tintwistle, for the purpose of draining it. A gentleman who lived in the neighbourhood, however, wrote to say, that although a great number of operatives were employed at first when Mr. Tollemache commenced draining, nearly all of them had been compelled to give up the work, because they could not stand it. Mr. Tollemache found it necessary to employ regular drainers from the south or west of England, for it was quite clear the factory operatives could not stand the work of draining the land. The fact was, that as soon as the sides of the drain touched their clothes and wetted them, the operatives became liable to be seized by rheumatism. It was also the fact that these operatives threw out three times as much soil from a drain as a regular drainer. The operatives themselves earnestly requested to be assisted to emigrate. If the House were to send 100,000 of them (who if they remained here would be out of employment for two or three winters) to the Colonies, they would settle there and become our best customers. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) had attributed to him the advocacy of a wholesale system of emigration. Now, he would admit that he would be liable to this charge if he advocated the removal to the Colonies of the whole 400,000 unemployed operatives. He did not go so far, but he maintained that from 50,000 to 100,000 might be safely supplied with the means of emigration at the present time. They would have to do it eventually, and it was a mere question of time. It would therefore be wise to do it while the men had some stamina left. They should also send with them some agricultural labourers, in order to do some of the heavier agricultural work, which operatives would be unable to do. Such was the desire on the part of the operatives themselves to emigrate, that he believed that if sufficient emigrant vessels were now in the Mersey, the whole factory population would go in one exodus to the seashore, rejoiced thereby to escape the misery that now overwhelmed them. He believed that the operatives would not endure their privations for another winter. A letter had appeared in The Time's which he defied any one to read without tears. It was dated from Carlisle, and was headed "Emigration of Cotton Spinners." The writer stated that seventeen families of spinners, containing seventy-six individuals, persons of good character, and some of the best workmen in the mills, declared to him their earnest desire to emigrate. He added, "I wish those cotton lords, who doubt the desire of these people to emigrate, would come down here for a while, and witness what I have unhappily witnessed repeatedly, stout men, with tears in their eyes, imploring me to send them 'any where out of this.'" The writer of the letter was Dr. Close, the Dean of Carlisle, and no one would doubt that his statements were implicitly to be believed. There were fifty districts where the operatives were equally desirous to emigrate. They were weary of this hunger and poverty, and they only asked for migration purposes for one of the many millions which the Chancellor of the Exchequer boasted the other day had been added to the wealth of the country during the last few years by their labour. [The hon. Member, having read extracts from letters and local papers describing the extreme misery that existed in various localities, proceeded:] Would any one deny the notorious fact that the factory operatives wished to emigrate? Who opposed their wish? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers) and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cobden)—men who were formerly the leaders of the Anti-Corn Law League—the men who promised the operatives abundance, and who were now the representatives of the manufacturers, who were leagued together to prevent emigration. When the philanthropists of Essex recommended emigration, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cobden) as good as told them to mind their own business. Since then the hon. Gentleman had appealed to the whole country to subscribe a million, and he got it. He might have to appeal again, but he would not get it. When the manufacturers in 1835 gave a dinner to Daniel O'Connell, they boasted that they were rich enough to buy up the whole House of Lords. Then why did they not raise the money among themselves? He believed that at least a quarter of the cotton manufacturers had not subscribed one sixpence for the distress in Lancashire, although some of them had made large fortunes by their mills. He trusted to God that before the end of the Session many noble-hearted men in that House would say, when the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) brought forward his Motion in favour of emigration, that he had made out his case, and that they would vote for a grant of £1,000,000, if the Government would propose the Resolution. If the Government refused to do this, they would have the curses of a million factory operatives on their heads instead of their blessings. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cobden) told them that the operatives were not fit for outdoor labour; and yet he supported the present Bill. But he said he was for voluntary emigration. The conduct of the hon. Member reminded him of an ancient torture, where persons were put in iron cages with food placed just beyond their reach. When the sufferers asked for bread, they were told to take it. The hon. Member for Rochdale had recommended voluntary emigration, but he doubted if the funds could be raised for removing a thousand operatives by such means. If the operatives were kept at home during the ensuing winter they would eat up the poor rates of the district. The interest of the money lent under the present Bill would have to be added to the rates, and the result would be to bring the poor rates of some of the manufacturing districts up to 25s. in the pound. The Trea- sury, infact, would have to find £3,000,000 during the ensuing winter for the relief of distress in Lancashire. If the cotton trade of England could not be maintained, except by the sacrifice of 500,000 operatives, he for one would say, "Perish the cotton trade rather than sacrifice 500,000 of our countrymen, countrywomen, and children."


assured the House that he did not rise to answer the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport, but to entreat hon. Members not to do so. The hon. Gentleman claimed to be the representative of the factory operatives. He (Colonel W. Patten) was also one of their representatives, and he told the hon. Gentleman to his face, that if he were their bitterest enemy, he could not take a course more calculated to injure them. The Bill was one for authorizing the issue of £1,200,000 to be employed in works of local improvement, and a morning sitting had been granted to enable the House to consider it in detail. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ferrand) had availed himself of the opportunity of addressing the House on the principle of the Bill upon the second reading; and now, when the House assembled at a morning sitting, and had only four hours to discuss the clauses, the hon. Gentleman went into a discussion of free trade, the cotton trade, and emigration. The Bill would be lost altogether if this discussion were carried on. Let hon. Members go into Committee, and discuss the clauses in a business-like manner. Only two hours now remained for the discussion of a Bill of nineteen clauses; and if the present opportunity were lost, the fate of the Bill at this period of the Session would become very doubtful.


said, that he hoped they would take the advice of the hon. and gallant Colonel. The hon. Members for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) and Devonport (Mr. Ferrand) had left the House very little time for considering the clauses of the Bill. Both hon. Members, it seemed, highly approved of the Bill. [Mr. EERRAND: As far as it goes.] Well, he (Mr. C. P. Villiers) did not go further than the Bill on the present occasion. This being the case, he hoped it would not be thought disrespectful to the House if he declined to go back to discuss questions that had been raised and decided any time for the last thirty years. The only novelty was to find two hon. Gentlemen who avowed themselves as firmly convinced as ever of the superior policy of protect- tion as opposed to free trade. The hon. Member for Devonport had not adduced a title of evidence to show that the operatives were opposed to this Bill. His hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) had given notice of his intention to bring the subject of emigration before the House, and at the proper time he should be prepared to state the views of the Government on the subject. He might state, however, to those who were impatient upon that subject, that there never was so extensive an emigration as that which was now going on from this country. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport had stated gratuitously, and without a tittle of foundation, that this Bill had been prepared in the winter, but had been suppressed to please the manufacturers. It was prepared after it appeared that the trade was not likely to revive sufficiently to reinstate the people in their employments, and that there appeared a general anxiety in the country that the operatives should not continue to depend entirely upon charity, and after inquiries had been instituted to ascertain whether it was possible to find remunerative employment upon works of permanent utility. It was upon the report of these inquiries that this Bill was framed, with a view to give it effect. In opposition to what the hon. Gentleman had said, he would venture to assert that the operatives were anxious to be set to work, and that they were not disaffected. They were not ungrateful; they had been treated with great consideration, and they were sensible of it. Whether by making such addresses as that to which the House has just listened the hon. Member might not change that feeling he did not know. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the House agree to the Resolution.

Resolution agreed to.