HC Deb 16 March 1869 vol 194 cc1535-42

trusted that, as a new Member, and as the representative of the working man, he should not ask the indulgence of the House in vain while he drew attention to the subject of the employment of women and children in print works. Under the existing law male children above the age of eight years and under the age of thirteen, and girls above the age of thirteen and under the age of sixteen, and women above the age of sixteen, might be employed for sixteen hours in one day in print works. This arose from the peculiar definition given to the words "day" and "night" in the 8 & 9 Viet. c. 29, whereby the word "day" was defined as being from six in the morning until ten at night, and the word "night" as being from ten at night until six in the morning. Boys above the age of thirteen could be employed from day to day continuously, without any interval being allowed for either meals or sleep. The educational clauses of the Print Work Acts were very defective—so much so that he understood that the inspectors had given up the attempt to work them in despair. Under those clauses a child was only required to attend school for thirty days in the half-year, and those days were to be continuous, so that a child might be at work for five months in the half-year and only one month at school. Of course, such a system of education was practically useless. The working men proposed to assimilate the Print Works Act to the Factory Act, under which young persons, women and children, could only be employed from six in the morning until six at night in factories; and under the educational clause a child must be instructed for three hours every day in the year except Saturday, and if the child was employed for ten hours in any one day it was to attend school for five hours during the following day. Nothing could be more easy than to apply the principle of the Factory Acts to the print works. It was almost superfluous for him to endeavour to point out the evils arising from the present system adopted in print works. Attention had been drawn to them in 1855, in a Report signed by four factory inspectors. In that Report these inspectors said that the school attendance under the Print Works Act was only a farce and a mischievous delusion, and that there was nothing peculiar in the labour in print works that would prevent the provisions of the Factory Acts being applied to those establishments. That Report was presented to both Houses of Parliament fourteen years ago, but no action whatever had been taken upon it. In 1867 a joint Report was presented by two factory inspectors—Messrs. Redgrave and Baker—which contained a similar suggestion, and stated that the Print Works Act had caused great dissatisfaction in many localities. From the hours she was at work it was impossible for a woman, employed in the print works, to attend to her household duties, and she was obliged to get up at two or three in the morning in order to do her washing and mending; to look after her children was, of course, an impossibility. The consequence was that the children were brought up without education, and were put out to nurse—a practice which led to great infant mortality. Of course, the young men engaged in these works did not go to any mechanics' institution, because they would not pay their money in advance when they were subject to be called upon to work continuously night and day. Under these circumstances it was not surprising that they could neither spell nor do a small sum in arithmetic. There were, however, two honourable exceptions to this system in establishments where the provisions of the Factory Acts were adopted with the most satisfactory result. When the attention of the Select Committee, which was appointed in 1867, was drawn to these facts they suggested that a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into the question. A Royal Commission, however, was not appointed, but a gentleman named "Wright was sent down two years ago to inquire into the matter, but he had not yet made his Report. This was not a party question. Some years ago no doubt it would have been. Many gentlemen then in the House, of advanced Liberal views, were opposed to factory legislation, on the ground that it violated the principles of political economy. Factory legislation was denounced by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, with all that eloquent vehemence of which he was so great a master. But the right hon. Gentleman had recently acknowledged that he then made a mistake, and that on that subject, at least, he was radically wrong. He was not aware that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had ever lifted up his voice against factory legislation, though the first vote he gave was a silent vote against it. Recently, however, he too, had changed his opinions, and a letter, written by the direction of the right hon. Gentleman, and bearing the date of the 25th of February, 1867, expressed his disposition to take a favourable view of the operation of the Factory Acts. No doubt it would involve a violation of the principles of political economy if the House were to interfere in contracts between man and man. Here, however, the case was different; the interference of legislation was sought on behalf of women and children, who, unlike men, were unable to protect themselves, Women and children, it must be remembered, were exposed, not merely to the cupidity of employers, but to the cupidity of those who ought to be their protectors—their fathers, brothers, and husbands—who frequently sought to live in dissipation upon the earnings of those whom they ought to shelter. He knew that this question was a large one, and that it extended not merely to print works but to the case of workshops and bleach works as well. His Motion, however, was confined at present to print works merely. He knew that the Secretary of State for the Home Department was anxious to do what he could in the matter, and he therefore asked him to give an assurance, if possible, that a measure for assimilating print works to factories would be introduced in the present Session. If the right hon. Gentleman were unable to give such an assurance, he would himself,—though but a new Member and occupying a very humble position—be happy to introduce a Bill, upon the understanding that every reasonable facility for its progress would be afforded. He hoped he should not be met with the objection that the Irish Church would engross the whole of the attention of Parliament this Session. The Reform Bill in 1867 and the Irish Church in 1868 prevented legislation in those years, but he hoped legislation in reference to the present works would not be further delayed. The Irish Church question admittedly was but a sentimental grievance, while the grievances he had mentioned affecting English women and children were a practical and most serious wrong.


seconded the Motion, and on the part of the constituency which he represented, forming one of the largest hives of industry in the country, endorsed the statements made by the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Charley). His only question was whether the same measure might not only include print works, &c. in large towns, but dye and other works.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the hours of toil of the "women and children employed in Print works ought to be assimilated to the hours of toil of the women and children employed in factories."—(Mr. Charley.)


said, he thought the House was discussing the question rather prematurely, and he expressed an opinion that it would be better to wait until they had received the Report of the gentlemen appointed some time since to inquire into and report upon the subject. For several years he had been in constant communication with the working classes of the northern division of Cheshire, and he could testify that their feeling was entirely in favour of the operation of the Factory Act. He was informed that—under a pressure of business—the women and children in print works were worked sixteen hours a day. Now, that was a state of things which everyone would wish to see altered. The Factory Acts were found to work admirably, and the working men, who never before sent their children to school, expressed themselves satisfied with the compulsory attendance of their children at school. He thought it would be better to wait for the Report, and he hoped that when it was presented the House would be in a position to legislate this Session upon the question of long hours and education.


said, it was very natural that the hon. Member for Sal-ford (Mr. Charley), should bring forward a question in which his constituents was largely interested. At the same time it would be only prudent to wait for the Report of the Commission. "Whether circumstances had changed since then he could not say, but the reason given at the time why print works were not placed on the same footing as ordinary cotton factories was that, owing to the nature of the business in them, there was at times immense pressure to fulfil foreign orders, requiring almost continuous work for several days together. It was then found that a Bill resembling the Factory Acts would cause such an interference with the ordinary course of the print works as to be intolerable. Whether the course of the trade had since been altered he could not undertake to say, but the matter was one of importance, and the hon. Member for Salford would do well to wait for the Report of the Commissioners. He did not see that the hon. Member would gain any advantage by the Resolution, because his proper course, if he thought the matter ripe for legislation, would be to bring in a Bill. It was, however, illogical and inconsistent to say, as he did by this Resolution, that an Act ought to be passed, and at the same time not to bring in a Bill. If the hon. Member induced the House to pass his Resolution he would be no nearer than before. The remedy was an Act of Parliament, if it could be passed without damage to the trade concerned, and he hoped that when the Report of the Com- missioners was laid before Parliament it would appear that the change was both advisable and practicable.


said, the question was before a Committee two years ago, when there was a disposition to go into the whole matter, but it was found that legislation at that time would be practically useless. In 1845 the first Print Works Act was passed, and the fact that fifteen years elapsed up to 1860 before legislation was again attempted, showed the difficulty of dealing with, the question. He fully admitted that the existing law required amendment; but, as a magistrate, he had never met with a case of infringement in his own district. He believed that masters would be very glad if the Government would take up the question, all they wanted being a fair workable Act. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Charley) seemed to have no idea of the difficulty of legislating, but the fact was that every trade and every branch of it required to be treated by itself. The earnings of the persons engaged in print works were much larger than those of any other class of persons engaged in manufactures. It was a healthy occupation, and the average age was better than that of any other class of manufactures. While the earnings of the workpeople were very large it was gratifying to be able to state that they were not spent in dissipation, and there was no better or more respectable class of workmen. The Report of the Commissioners would require careful examination; but from what he knew of the gentlemen engaged in the inquiry, he did not think there would be any great difficulty in legislating satisfactorily on this subject.


said, that the subject, so ably brought before the House by the hon. Member (Mr. Charley), was of great importance, and excited great interest in the manufacturing districts. The hon. Member for Salford must have derived great satisfaction and encouragement from the remarks of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Potter), which he hailed as a harbinger of the satisfactory settlement of the question, which had long agitated the minds of numbers. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) said that the nature of the print trade was such that the provisions of the Factory Acts could not be applied to it. He could not forget, how- ever, that a similar argument had been used year after year when it was proposed to apply the Factory Acts to bleaching, dyeing, and analogous works. It used to be said that it would be impossible in that case to carry out the orders of foreign houses; but at last that superstition was discarded, and now the Act was applied both to bleaching and dyeing works, and it was found that there was no real objection to the application of the principle and many of the details of the Factory Acts to these excepted works. Having been Chairman of the Committee to which reference had been made, he could confirm the statement that there was no reluctance on their part to go on with the inquiry, but in their opinion the reference from the House precluded them from going into that subject. They, however, accepted the proposition of an hon. Member to recommend the appointment of a Commission. He regretted that the Report of the Commissioner had not been laid upon the table; but he hoped to hear that a Bill would be before long, upon his Report, brought forward by the Government, and that the principle of the Factory Acts would be adopted and further carried out in these trades, with due provision for the special circumstance of the case.


said, that the workpeople employed in print works took a deep interest in the subject. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) had truly stated that one difficulty in legislating on' this subject arose from the peculiar state of the markets, which might render it necessary for these print works suddenly to turn out an increased quantity of work. The hon. Member for Carlisle had also correctly stated that the occupation was much healthier than that of persons engaged in other manufactures. Still, the House would see at once that the question was whether it was right that young children under fifteen and women should be allowed to work for a period so long as sixteen hours. He hoped the hon. Member for Salford would not press his Motion tonight, but that the Government would give a promise to legislate upon it.


agreed in the opinion that legislation was required. If the power to employ women and girls for sixteen hours were given, they might be sure that it would be exercised by some unscrupulous employers. As to what had been said about the pressure of foreign orders, that statement would apply not only to the print works, but to various other works. It appeared to him that the whole question of the Factory Acts required revision and assimilation.


said, that the Print Works Act was one of the earliest efforts of factory legislation, and it was defective and imperfect. As the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) had stated, a Commission had been appointed by the late Government to inquire into the subject. He understood that the Report might be expected in a short time—soon enough to enable the Government to undertake legislation on the question. With respect to education and the limitation of the hours of labour, it would be necessary to introduce some change, and, he believed, there could be no doubt, especially after hearing the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. E. Potter) that alterations might be made without any injury to the manufacturers themselves, and with great advantage to those whom they employed. He could assure the House that the moment the Report was presented the Government would consider it, and no unnecessary delay should occur in proceeding to legislation. He hoped, under these circumstances, the hon. Gentleman would withdraw his Resolution.


said, he was perfectly satisfied with the promise of the right hon. Gentleman that, upon receiving the Report of the Commissioners, the Government would take the question into their serious consideration and introduce a Bill.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn