HC Deb 31 July 1872 vol 213 cc210-3

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [27th May], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


said, he regretted he had lost the opportunity for an exhaustive debate, and for a division, if one was called, on the second reading of the Bill, in consequence of the day on which it was originally set down for second reading falling within the Whitsun holidays. The Government had this year taken the week before instead of the week after Whit Sunday for the Vacation, which was unusual, and unfortunate for the progress of the measure which he had at heart. However, the promise and introduction of a Government Truck Bill this Session had been to a certain extent consoling, and he had been, after serving for some weeks on the Select Committee to which that Bill was referred, encouraged to hope for the best, seeing that he was enabled to introduce clauses into the amended Government Bill, which he believed dealt very fairly with the question now before the House. He could not venture to take up the expiring time of the Session now by going into detail. The Report of the Truck Act Commission of 1870 was in the hands of hon. Members and the country, and he was content to rest his case on the evidence so recently taken before that Commission, and to plead the reported opinion of the Commissioners as sufficient reason and justification for the introduction of the Bill. A Select Committee of that House had sat on the very question, and reported thereon in 1854. That Report was reprinted in the Appendix to the Report of the Truck Act Commissioners, who endorsed every word of it, and condemned the practices brought under their notice. The Truck system of 1854 was going on, it might be in a less degree, but still going on unchecked in 1872. It was a grievance of many years standing, and it was nothing less, he believed, than his positive duty to attempt to give effect to the recommendation of the Commissioners, and abate such an injustice. In explaining the character of the measure, he would state that it was intended to put an end to certain forms of the old Truck system which still existed in the hosiery trade, under which rent was paid by the workman to the master for the use of the frame at which he worked, certain deductions were made from his wages as a percentage to the middleman who collected the work and was responsible for the yarn given out, and a kind of toll was levied upon a man working in a workshop as a rent for the space occupied by the machine at which he worked. It had been held by the Courts of Law that these deductions from the workman's wages did not come within the provisions of the Truck Act; and therefore it had become necessary for the protection of the workmen that Parliament should interfere in order to put an end to these oppressive exactions. The operatives in the hosiery trade were entitled to great praise for not having sought to compel the masters to abolish these forms of Truck by striking, and for having waited patiently until Parliament should think fit to interfere in their behalf. One of the evils that arose from this state of things was that work which might well be done at three frames was spread over five or six, in order to receive the rent for them. Very inferior machinery was often used, and the rent charged was such as, in some instances, to amount, in the course of a year, to about the value of a frame. It had been argued that there were technical reasons in this manufacture for the continuance of these rents and charges, and that it was impossible to abolish them without great inconvenience to men and masters, if, indeed, it could be well done at all. But his reply to that argument was, that in practice several if not many of the best houses engaged in this manufacture had arranged net payments to their hands, and ceased to take frame-rents. At Hawick and throughout Scotland, such charges had entirely ceased to be imposed on the framework-knitters. The principle of charging for the frames was, however, he believed, extending itself to other branches of work done by machinery, such as the shoe-making and the slop-making. All that the operatives asked was, that their wages should be paid without deduction, on a scale which would allow a fair compensation to the employer for the value of the frames. Although it might be too late in the Session to hope that this measure might become law this year, still he trusted that the question would be taken up by the Government at an early period next Session. He should be glad to obtain an assurance from the Government that next year they would deal with this question of Truck themselves, and bring their measure forward at such a period of the Session as would give some reasonable hope that it might become law.


said, he should withdraw the Amendment he had placed upon the Paper, and propose to negative the second reading. Parliamentary interference was most mischievous, and should always encounter his most strenuous opposition. When either the Government or private Members dangled before the eyes of the men Bills which destroyed their feeling of self-reliance, it would only prolong that state of things which the House desired to put an end to, and leave the employés more defenceless than ever. He felt that the tendency of this species of legislation was to unman the workpeople. If the House were going to take charge and cognizance of such industrial questions, then trade organizations were a mere pretence. Legislative enactments of that kind not only had the effect of deadening public feeling, but also of blunting individual con-science. The great struggle of late between capital and labour had inculcated one lesson of high importance on working men—namely to make them more moderate, reasonable, and firm in their demands. There was a certain short-sightedness when such questions came up for consideration, by the natural impatience of hon. Members with the best of intentions to correct admitted evils. But he thought these Gentlemen should take a wider survey, and with all respect to the House, he must be excused for remarking that they were only a mass of very average men. He did not wish to use any grander expression about the complexion of the House, whose Members talked and voted much while sleeping little, and were already so overburdened with work that they could not get through the necessary business. Therefore, when he looked upon that average mass of men, and when he looked upon the varied industries and interests of the nation at large, he could not but ask whether it was not rash and presumptuous on their part to attempt to control those forces which had shaken other nations and might shake this.

MR. C. SEELY () Nottingham

said, it was extremely popular for hon. Members to come to that House when there was any grievance to redress in their particular localities; but what he wanted to know was where such action was to stop? If this practice were generally followed the House would have to sit 12 instead of six months.

And it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.