HC Deb 17 June 1864 vol 175 cc1939-48

Order for Committee read.


said, he wished to bring under the notice of the House the condition of the needlewomen and tailors of the metropolis. Last year the community were startled by the case of an unfortunate needlewoman who met her death in London. She had been in the employment of madras Elise, one of the fashionable dressmakers of the metropolis, and her death was accelerated by working in an ill-ventilated room. At the time of the occurance the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in reply to a question asked in the House, said he should be glad if something could be done by Parliament in reference to the ventilation of these buildings and workrooms. Twelve months had elapsed since the unfortunate occurance to which he alluded, and nothing had yet been done. He (Mr. Bagwell), therefore, thought the Government ought to state what were their intentions. If they were not prepared to introduce a Bill that Session, one might be introduced early in the next Session. The Act which was passed in the year before the last regulating bakehouses had worded most beneficially, and a similar measure in regard to the ventilation of the workrooms of needlewomen and tailors was highly desirable. In conclusion he would move that the Committee be instructed to take into consideration the propriety of including in the Bill the Bill the tailors and needlewomen of the metropolis, and of towns containing more than 5,000 inhabitants by the last census.


said, that a Commission had been appointed to examine into the state of those trades, and it would be unadvisable to legislate upon the subject until that Commission had made its Report. He could make no distinct pledge upon the subject, but he hoped his hon. Friend would be satisfied that the Government would give the matter the earliest attention possible.


said, that the instruction suggested by the hon. Member was not one that could be sent to the Committee, as the hon. Member had not given notice of his Motion. He must, therefore, request the hon. Member to withdraw it.


said, he would withdraw his Motion. He was perfectly satisfied with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to

Clause 3 (Definitions).


said, he regarded the mode of specifying those provisions of the Factory Acts to which the Bill was to extend as not only unadvisable but dangerous. The House should avoid the danger of cobweb legislation as far as possible. The plan was mischievous, as the House itself could not be fully aware of the extent of its legislation.


said, the provisions of the Factory Acts were perfectly familiar having been administered for many years, and he was satisfied that no practical difficulty would arise from the application of them. He might add that they had received an assurance from the Inspector of the district that he would be able with his sub-Inspectors to carry the measure into effect, but the number of Inspectors would be increased if necessary. There was no reason why the precaution of fencing machinery adopted in other factories should be dispensed with in this case. He did not intend to ask the House to consider the Report until Monday week with the view of giving ample time for the consideration of the subject.


said, he wished to call attention to a recent case which had come before the magistrates. A factory in which the provisions of the Factory Act had been violated, was proved to a situated in two counties. It having been ascertained that the process carried on in the county in which the proceedings had been instituted was not in contravention of the Act, the presentation failed. He trusted that if the Government contemplated any Consolidation Act, which had been hinted at, the anomaly to which he referred would be provided for.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule (Manufactures and Employments to which Act applies).


said, he wished to move the omission of the clause which included in the operation of the Act persons engaged in the employment of finishing, hooking, lapping, making up, or packing. The Government had been guided in framing the clauses by the state of the trade at Manchester. Information, however, from other places had been received, stating that hours were not excessive, and that no women and children, to whom the clauses of the Act could be applied, were employed in any injurious portion of the businesses. The government ought not to interfere in such cases unless there was ample cause for such interference, and even in Manchester there appeared to be no pressing call for interference. The state of all those trades, however, should be fully examined into, and all he asked of the Committee was not to force the Government against their sense of justice to legislate without further inquiry.


said, that the contest was between men who wished to advance the interests of the working classes and those who from selfish motives desired to employ them; a contest which had been carried on in that House for the last forty years. Legislation in favour of the working classes had been opposed at every step by the manufacturers. The first step was taken by his lamented friend Joseph Hume, who required that the power of combination should be granted to the working man, and feat step was at last carried in spite of the most virulent opposition on the part of the manufacturers. It was then felt that the children of the manufacturing classes were subject to much ill-treatment, and not until the manufacturers were actually ashamed of their conduct did they cease their opposition to any improvement in that direction. Then came the question as to whether the women ought not also to be protected by law, and in their opposition to any alteration of the existing legislation the manufactures were aided by many others who said that women were well able to take care of themselves. But that was a great mistake. He himself had opposed that measure, but he had since had ample opportunity of becoming convinced of his error. He had already confessed his mistake, and, after speaking upon the subject in the House, Sir James Graham said to him. "I am glad you have made your recantation. I shall do so too. "Well, then, the mines came next, and a more horrible exhibition was published on that subject, which furnished one of the most marked instances of the doings of this generation, and a, more horrible exhibition was never made before an alarmed, amazed, and an astounded public. Legislation in regard to mines was, however, opposed by the mining proprietors. Now, he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether any one of those various Acts had produced the least possible injury to trade, notwithstanding that at the time when they were passed they were told that if Parliament limited the time of the factories the manufacturers would be ruined. But the fact was that our manufactories, to use the pompous language of Johnson, "have risen like exhalations" throughout the country. His right hon. Friend ought not to attach much value to memorials signed by workmen and their children, because his right hon. Friend could not help knowing that the workmen were entirely under the control of their masters, and that the children in the same way might be induced to adopt any course which their parents might deem advisable. The right hon. Gentleman's own experience must have shown him that no children were so harshly treated as those who had cruel parents. A child was often times converted into a mere machine far the profit of its idle and dissolute father. Why did his right hon. Friend propose to omit the clause bearing upon the employment of packers? He acknowledged that in Manchester the evil existed, and if he believed that it did not exist at Bradford, where could be the harm in applying the Act? He (Mr. Roebuck) received a letter from Mr. Walker, or Bradford, inconsequence of the Government having announced their intention to propose the omission of the shipping warehouses from the Bill, in which the writer stated that these warehouses employed a great number of boys even until midnight, and that they were deliberately included in the Bill when introduced in accordance with the Commissioners Report. The writer added that no new light had been thrown upon the treatment of those boys in these ware-house, and that it was only a few interested German merchants, who, having a great number of these warehouses in Manchester, Bradford &c. had induced Mr. Baines and Mr. W. E. Forster to endeavour to induce the Government to omit these warehouses, and the writer concluded by assuring him (Mr. Roebuck) that the public at large would rejoice to find the Bill passed entire as it was laid on the table of the House. After these things had been proved to exist, and after the statement of the hon. Member for Paisley that the evil existed in Manchester, he could not understand the Government, upon an interested memorial of certain persons, turning round and saying, "We are told that the evil does not exist at Bradford, and therefore we will withdraw the only thing in the Bill which really would do good, because we are told there is a possible mischief." They had abundant evidence to warrant their progressing with the Bill in its entirety. He asked the Government whether they would yield to the interested clamour of the manufacturers, who had opposed every reform which had been introduced into the regulation of the factories. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the trades referred to in the clause which he proposed to strike out would be made the subject of inquiry, and that the result of that inquiry would be acted upon next year. The right hon. Gentleman, however, must know that the fewer the people who had a right to complain the less would it be in their power to procure a remedy. A luke warmness would come over those who were protected by the law, and the same zeal would not be exhibited in freeing the remainder from the tyranny and cruelty to which they were subjected. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of Sate for the Home Department, whether his opposition in former times to the interested clamour of the manufacturers had not been, on the whole, exceedingly beneficial.


said, he should be sorry to revive long forgotten controversies, but he might safely affirm what was a very gratifying fact, that experience had shown the Factory Acts to have been successful in every respect. There was another principle, however, concerned in the present measure, that of legislating without sufficient inquiry. He could not but regard the course which his right hon. Friend proposed to take as correct, because the proposal was simply one of postponement for the purposes of inquiry, and not one of exclusion.


said, that the Bradford people, for the purpose of sparing themselves a little inconvenience, were willing to withhold benefits conferred by the Act from a large number of women and children. He regretted very much the course which the right hon. Gentleman had indicated his intention to pursue. He maintained that there was not only evidence sufficient to show that the clause was needed, but that its necessity was felt by all but those against whose interests it would operate. Petitions had been presented from all the great towns praying for restrictive legislation, and those petitions had in all cases been carried at public meetings and by overwhelming majorities. There were 2,500 boys employed in the warehouses of Manchester alone, and he asked the Committee whether that large number of children was to be left to the tender mercies of their employers. He should support the retention of the words proposed to be omitted.


said, he believed that his right hon. Friend had not withdrawn the clause on account of any pressure from the manufacturers, but because information had been received from Manchester alone; and it was considered necessary that the state of things in the other great towns should be inquired into. The truth was, that the warehousemen were afraid of the Act in the same way that the manufacturers feared the introduction of the Factory Acts, but he felt certain that their opinion would by-and- bye undergo the same change as that experienced by the manufacturers. He hoped that his right hon. Friend would not hesitate to pass the whole measure through Parliament as the Committee appeared determined to insist upon the retention of the clause.


said, he thought that the postponement proposed by the right hon. Gentleman for the purposes of further inquiry was but reasonable, as so many gentlemen had complained that their business would suffer from unnecessary interference, and that if time were given them they would be able to prove their case.


said, he should support, the Bill in its original form. He believed that legislation like that before them had done more to draw classes together, and to produce that admirable state of feeling which had been exhibited during the recent Lancashire distress, than anything else in the, world. He felt certain, that if the Ten Hours Act had not accompanied the introduction of free trade, the latter measure would have been a failure. The Manchester houses were willing to accept the unmutilated Bill, and it was only a few houses in Bradford that selfishly resisted. The, pressure which required these unnatural hours of labour only existed for a few months in the year, and might easily be met, either by employing more hands, or by refusing orders above what could be easily executed. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government would not recede from the position which they had originally taken up, Allusion had been made in the course of these discussions to a meeting which had been held in Bradford. His information respecting that meeting was, that resolutions were carried, by large majorities in favour of the original Bill, and that when the question of delay was started it met with strong opposition.


, suggested that an extension of the Bleach Works Act would meet the case of the packers. He was disappointed to hear from the Under Secretary of State that no further legislation was contemplated, but merely inquiry. In his opinion, the inquiry into the state of the trades under discussion would only be a waste of time, for the result must be the same, as legislation could not be avoided. He was himself a calenderer and finisher in Dundee, and for many years had prohibited employment in his factory after six in the evening. His managers had informed him that more and better work was get out of the people in ten hours, than had previously been obtained by prolonged hours of labour. He hoped that if evidence was to be taken upon the subject the Committee would examine working men as well as proprietors.


said, he would append to the right hon. Gentleman, after the statements made that afternoon, and ask him whether he could have the courage to face the feeling upon the subject out of doors as well as in the House?


said, he did not rise to represent any, interest objecting to the curtailment of labour. He thought however, that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was a very fair one to the parties whose interests would be affected by the Bill. A little, delay and further inquiry would result in more satisfactory legislation than could be obtained in the present state of their information.


admitted that he had been opposed to the Factory Acts before their introduction, but that the had become a convert on seeing their beneficial working. He placed most perfect reliance on the conduct and character of the factory Inspectors, and should support the retention, of the clauses.


said, he thought that nothing was less, applicable to the question before the Committee than the remarks of the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), because the question embraced no contest between humanity and selfishness, The only content was between the earnest purpose of the Minister to extend the benefits of legislation, to overworked women and children, and his enlightened caution which urged him not to overstep the proper boundary. The Committee should remember that, but for the right hon. Gentleman, they would have had no Bill at all.


observed, that he had not the slightest objection to the hours and regulations of the Bleaching Act being applied in this case.


said, a petition had been presented from the Leeds Chamber of Commerce bearing out the, idea of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns), who said he had put no pressure upon the Government. He had merely presented a petition from the Leeds Chamber of Commerce in favour of further in- quiry. He had communicated with the hon. Member for Bradford, and had received information from him to the effect that he (Mr. W. E. Forster) had received a numerous deputation from the packers themselves, who were perfectly satisfied with the present hours of labours, which were much less oppressive that the factory hours. His belief was that the safe course to take would be for the right hon. Gentleman to act upon the pledge which he had given, especially as the parties to whom that pledge was given were absent from the House. He quite agreed that in as much as no inquiry had taken place into the case of the "shipping warehouses," it would not be wise to legislate in regard to them upon mere exparte statements made in that House.


said, the men employed in the warehouses at Bradford had assured him that the hours of labour were not excessive, for that they did not commence work till eight or nine, and sometimes as late as ten o'clock.


said, that the manufactures of the country did not at all deserve the strictures of the hon. Member for Sheffield, as they were desirous of contributing in every possible way to the comfort and interested of their workpeople. He would express a hope that the right hon. Gentleman would adhere to his resolution to omit the shipping warehouses from the Bill. He entertained a strong opinion that the greatest injury would be inflicted on the young persons and women employed in the warehouses at Manchester if they were included in the provisions of the Bill.


repeated his statement that no legislation had been introduced without opposition from the manufacturers.


said, he entirely disagreed with the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, that the opposition to improve the condition of the children of the working classes arose, in this instance, from the masters and employers. His experience, on the contrary, had proved to him that he masters themselves were most anxious of having legislation of this kind, because they had no other means of securing the health of their work-people. He believed, from what he had heard during the discussion, that the majority of the Committee was in favour of the retention of the clause, and he could not see that any ob- ject would be obtained by going to a division. He believed, however, that a good many hon. Members who would vote against him if he went to a division would not be unfavourable to a modification of the clause. He should, therefore, propose an adjournment of the Committee for ten days, in order that the Government might be able to decide upon some arrangement which would probably accord with the views of hon. Members generally.


said, he thoroughly believed in the advantages which had accrued from factory legislation, and he regarded the measure before the Committee as a step in the right direction.


moved that the Committee report Progress, stating that he should bring up the Bill again on Monday week.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again on Monday, 27th June.