§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read a second time."—(Mr. E. A. Bruce).
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that having been from the first a supporter of the Ten Hours Act, even at a time when it was very unpopular to advocate it, and having seen the good effects of that measure, his first impression was in favour of the present Bill. On a careful examination, however, he found that there was no ground for interference in this case, and that they were about to legislate in the dark. In the town he represented (Bradford), for instance, there were 1,500 men and boys employed in preparing and packing goods, who would be brought under the Bill. Of that number 400 were boys, and there were scarcely any women or children thus engaged—certainly not more than half-a-dozen. The hours of labour, taking the average of the year, were much shorter than those in the mills, being only about fifty-three or fifty-four hours a week in the former, and sixty hours in the latter case. Occasionally, for perhaps a week in the course of the year, under the pressure of business, the men and boys were kept longer at work, but on the whole their work was comparatively light. They stopped work at twelve or one p.m. on Saturday almost universally, and 1363 it was the custom to give them a week's holiday once a year. A much larger proportion of the boys engaged in packing, &c., attended the night schools than of the boys in the mills. The opposition to the Bill came not so much from the masters as from the men, 1,200 of the 1,500 persons employed in the business having petitioned against it. Their ground of objection was, that if the Bill became law, the masters, rather than submit to inspection, would dismiss the boys, and take men in their places. The fact was, that the Bill had been brought forward solely on an inquiry in one town; but even in Manchester there was not much cause for interference, although many children were employed in packing there, and only a very few at Bradford. He thought the Government ought to postpone the Bill for a year, in order to institute further inquiries. If they would not agree to that, they ought, at least, to limit the operation of the measure to warehouses in which there were women and children. In any case, however, they were legislating in the matter very much in the dark, and they must take care not to press the principle of the Factory Acts too far, lest it excited a prejudice against all such interference, whether necessary and moderate or otherwise. He should move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ MR. BAINES,
in seconding the Amendment, said, he could confirm the statements of his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford from his own knowledge of what was done in the woollen district of Leeds. The Bill was of a very unprecedented character. There had been no inquiry, no grievance had been alleged, and the measure was opposed by those whom it was intended to protect. He would not, however, oppose the Bill if the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of it would exclude from the operation of the measure all large warehouses where women and children were not employed.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. William Edward Forster.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. COLLINS
expressed a hope that the Government would not withdraw the Bill on the second reading, but that they would be prepared to consider any Amend- 1364 ments that might be proposed by the hon. Member for Bradford in Committee.
§ SIR HUGH CAIRNS
said, that if the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill would promise to deal with the objections to the Bill in Committee, the House would probably agree to the second reading. He might add that he did not see why places of business where children or women were not employed should be subjected to any kind of inspection.
MR. H. A. BRUCE
said, he must decline to withdraw the Bill, as he considered himself under an honourable engagement to the House to proceed with it. In Committee he should be happy to consider any Amendments, but he could not pledge himself to adopt the change sketched by the hon. Member for Bradford. He thought it was unadvisable to make any difference between one class of workmen and another.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he hoped the House would wait for a little more evidence before they proceeded further with this measure.
§ MR. LEATHAM
said, he should support the Amendment, as great objections were entertained against the Bill in the borough which he had the honour to represent.
§ SIR JOHN RAMSDEN
urged the postponement of the Bill to give time for inquiry. The reason given by the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Collins) for supporting the Bill appeared to him the strongest argument for its postponement. For what said the hon. Gentleman? That the Bill was opposed on the same grounds as those on which the Factory Acts had been opposed, and that the same evils existed in this case and required the same remedy. But that was assuming the very point at issue. The persons most deeply affected by the Bill denied the existence of any such evils. But they did not ask Parliament to believe this merely on their statement. They complained that no investigation had been made—they challenge inquiry. Their language was—inquire into the facts, and then, when the materials for forming a correct judgment are fairly before you, then if a case for legislative interference is made out, legislate if you will. The request was so reasonable, and dictated by a spirit of such manifest justice, that he hoped the House would not refuse it.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, when in Committee the Government would fairly 1365 consider every Amendment which might be proposed.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 65; Noes 22: Majority 43.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2o, and committed for Thursday.