HC Deb 25 June 1872 vol 212 cc181-90

Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children.

Clause 11 (Employment of women, young persons, and children above ground about mines).


, who had an Amendment on the Paper to omit from the clause the provision of a Saturday half-holiday to such persons so employed, said he did not intend to proceed with it; but there were some coal workings in Ireland where such a provision was unnecessary; and he would therefore move the insertion of the following words at the end of the clause:— The provisions of the clause as to the employment of women, young persons, and children after two o'clock on Saturday afternoon, shall not apply in the case of any mine exempted in writing by the Secretary of State. That would give to the Home Secretary the power to exempt from the operation of the half-holiday any part of the coun- try to which the provisions of the clause were not applicable.


said, he had received no objection to the clause as regarded Great Britain. No doubt in Ireland many feast days and festivals were observed and interfered with the regularity of labour. Workmen in Ireland would often themselves object to leave off work at 2 o'clock on Saturdays. Therefore, the Secretary of State might properly have the power of exempting mines in Ireland from the operation of the clause; but the Amendment ought to be strictly limited to Ireland.


then moved the insertion of the words "in Ireland."

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 12 (Register of boys and male young persons employed in mines).

MR. PEASE moved, in page 5, line 40, after "employer," insert "other than the owner, agent, or manager," on the ground that they were often not responsible for the keeping of the register, and that the responsibility should rest on the manager. The noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office, as a colliery owner, might become responsible in this way, though he and other owners might seldom go near their mines.


thought it essential that the owner and agent should be responsible for proper compliance with the Act.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 13 (Employment of young persons under 18 about engines).


asked why the driver of an animal which worked the engine should be restricted to a boy or male person, and why a woman should not be employed in this capacity? He knew of works in South Wales which had been stopped, and their stoppage was generally supposed to be due to legislation with regard to female labour. He visited the works when they were in operation, and they were pretty well manned with women. Several engines were worked by women; there were none but women throwing coal on and looking after the horses. He did not want to compel women to be drivers, but if they liked the occupation, he did not see why they should not follow it. In conclusion, he moved the substitution of the word "person" for "male."


said, the dress women wore was a sufficient reason why they should not be in charge of engines.


said, he had no doubt that some of the employments mentioned in the first paragraph of the clause might be followed by women; but the charge of an engine required firmness, courage, and presence of mind, and ought not to be entrusted to a woman.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 (Penalty for employment of persons contrary to Act).

MR. STAVELEY HILL moved the insertion of the words "knowingly and wilfully," to save an employer from being punished for a misrepresentation as to a boy's age. The words were recognized legal terms, introduced into most Acts, and their meaning was well understood.

Amendment proposed, in page 6, line 21, after the words "with or," to insert the words "knowingly or wilfully."—(Mr. Staveley Hill.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, so far from the words being introduced into all previous legislation and their omission being a novelty, they did not occur in the Factory Acts, under which many Members of the House conducted their works. The policy of the Act was to require that they and their agents should keep a sharp look out as to the ages of the children they employed. The latter part of the clause sufficiently protected an agent or owner who was misled by a false representation.


regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not accepted the Amendment. At a large meeting of miners which had recently been held it was unanimously agreed that the word "knowingly" ought to be adopted, and he thought such an expression of opinion ought to be respected by the right hon. Gentleman.


hoped that the Government would assent to the Amendment, which was simply founded on justice. It would not be fair to inflict penalties on persons who infringed the law in utter ignorance. The men engaged in mines admitted themselves that the insertion of the proposed words was only a matter of justice.


stated that he wished on the part of the Government to say that, while he would listen with the greatest respect to the representations of persons interested in legislation on this subject, it was contrary to a proper sense of responsibility on the part of any Government to be bound by any compromise come to by persons out-of-doors; and it was his business to see that the law proposed by the Government should be effective. In this case he did not think that the act of the owner, simply because he was ignorant, was an innocent act. It was the owner's duty to take proper precautions against the infringement of the law, and there were instances where proper precautions were not taken.


observed that though it was maintained to be unjust to inflict penalties on persons who had no intention to violate the law, yet the Factory Acts made individuals liable for negligence, and they could not plead ignorance in extenuation, for, if they were allowed to do so, the Factory Acts would become a dead letter.


mentioned that the owner of a factory passed frequently through his factory, and had many opportunities of seeing and judging of the age of the persons employed; whereas the owner of a coal mine was very rarely in it, and seldom saw the persons employed underground, and to make him criminally responsible, as proposed by the Bill, seemed to be an extreme proposition.


regretted that the Home Secretary would not accede to the Amendment. He admitted the soundness of the principle that the Government could not consider themselves bound by any decision come to by any body of men out of the House; but when persons who were the most interested in the operation of this Bill agreed upon any point in connection with it, that might be taken as primâ facie evidence in its favour. Seeing that the workmen wished the proposed words to be introduced, he would certainly vote for the Amendment if it were pressed to a division.


, as a factory owner, could not allow the distinction drawn between factory owners and mine owners. Although factory owners were not protected by the word "knowingly," he had never suffered a penalty, and he objected to any body of gentlemen determining elsewhere what should be done in the House. If the mill-owners had been consulted before the Factory Acts were passed these Acts would never have become law.


hoped his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would not agree to the Amendment, but would hold by the clause as it stood. He protested against this agreement on the part of workmen and employers, for both of those parties were interested in objecting to the restrictions imposed by the Secretary of State. ["No, no!"] At any rate, the children ought to receive the independent consideration of the House. If the word "knowingly" were inserted, nothing would be more easy than to shift the burden of responsibility, and it would be perfectly hopeless to support a conviction. It was to prevent people from being passive and to make them active that the law was necessary. If it should so happen that a charge were preferred before magistrates who were mine owners, it would be impossible to prove the word "knowingly" to their satisfaction.


wished to enter a protest against the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member as to the considerations influencing mine owners in regard to this Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman said it was necessary to guard the children of miners.


said, he referred to all children, and not merely the children of miners.


observed that the hon. and learned Member implied that it was requisite to guard children against their parents. [Mr. JAMES: No, no!] He was glad he had misunderstood the hon. and learned Gentleman, because he knew that one of the main objects of the mining population was to protect their children in this matter.


contended that the present clause violated every principle to the prejudice of the employers. Under it four or five distinct penalties could be sued for in relation to one single case. They were really over-legislating on these matters, and there were so many penalties in this Bill that there was every reason to believe it would defeat its own object. The imposition of so many penalties on owners and agents would render legislation altogether intolerable.


could understand a person being punished for contravening an Act of Parliament; but he could not understand the propriety of punishing a man for "permitting another to fail" in his duty. That was assuming something like omniscience on the part of the employer.


thought his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. James) had, as usual, much overstated the case. His hon. and learned Friend appeared to derive his notion of legislation from the Continental idea of paternal government. He (Mr. Goldsmid) could not see how a proprietor of a mine conld be punished for "permitting another to fail" in his duty. It was highly desirable that the word "knowingly" should be introduced, at least so far as it applied to absent owners or agents.


suggested that unless the clause was modified the Home Secretary ought to indicate some standard by which an employer of labour might ascertain the age of the children he employed.


remarked that if, as stated by the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. H. Vivian), mine owners were less acquainted with their works than factory owners, if "knowingly" was inserted they could never be made responsible. They should be very careful not to allow too much weight to compromises come to behind the back of the Committee. If they gave way in this matter it would be the children who must suffer, whom they were bound to protect.


quite agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) that there was in some matters a great danger of over legislation, and he hoped he would remember the cheers he received in making that admission when next he proposed to carry a Bill to prevent a man getting a glass of beer. He thought his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. James) had been somewhat misunderstood. He did not think he meant to make any sweeping accusation against the parents or employers of children in mines; but because there were some employers and some parents who over- worked their children and subjected them to conditions to which children ought not to be subjected it was necessary for the Legislature to interfere. He entirely approved what the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Akroyd) had said, and he thanked the Government for having resisted this Amendment.


pointed out the difficulty there would be in discovering the age of the child. He could not believe that hon. Members really wished to treat mine owners as if they were a set of Molochs as regarded children. He felt it his duty to enter his protest with that of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) against the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James).

MR. SEELY (Nottingham)

would object to the infliction of criminal penalties unless knowledge of the acts was proved, but this clause only imposed penalties. He hoped, therefore, the Government would adhere to it.


remarked that in the case of sailors, pointsmen, &c., the principals were held liable, and that the Amendment would defeat the purpose of the Bill. An owner whose manager was fined would take care he did not offend again, or he would dismiss him.


doubted whether the Factory Acts contained so sweeping an enactment, and he could not understand why the word "knowingly" should be inserted in a subsequent clause and excluded from this. [Mr. BRUCE said, he intended to omit it in the clause referred to.] He admitted that Parliament was not bound by the decision of the masters and men, but their practical experience entitled them to great weight, and two Inspectors present at the conference concurred in the decision.


said, that while the great majority of owners would willingly keep within the terms of the law, there was a small minority who would try to avoid doing so, and against that it was necessary to guard. Under the analogous provisions of the Factory Acts there had been no unfair informations since they had fully come into operation, though at an early period in their history employers were treated with injustice.


had no apprehension of the owners being proceeded against. The certified managers would be held responsible for the Act not being infringed.


said, the word "owner" would subject every shareholder in a joint-stock company to the penalties provided by the Act. What, then, did the Home Secretary mean by making a body corporate responsible? If the word "knowingly" were not inserted every poor woman who had a share in a coal mine would be liable to be sent to prison.


was of opinion that the clauses already passed naturally involved this clause in its present shape. Whether or not it was right to interfere in this wholesale way with the conduct of business and the age and sex of the persons employed, it was necessary after adopting that principle to insure its being carried out. The owners of mines might say they were fined for wrongs of which they were ignorant; but still they had the management of the mines. Unless a penalty was put in the right way, they might as well not place any penalty at all.


said, that owners had not the power they were supposed to possess. They could not enforce what they wished to have done. Their workmen were their masters, and they knew it; their agents were very nearly their masters, and they knew it. If he discharged an agent he did not know where to get another; he punished himself and not him. The same with the workmen; they had 20 situations waiting for each of them. Under these circumstances, to punish employers for acts of which they had no knowledge was an absurdity. Of course, employers could be mulcted as long as they had anything to pay with, but it was an injustice; the right persons would not be punished, and the object sought would not be accomplished. The immediate employer of the youth under age—the person who infringed the Act—was the person to be punished, and not the head of the house. He had no power to compel those under him to do what he wished; the Bill did not give him power, and he could not exercise it if it did. The owners would have to suffer, and yet the object in view would not be accomplished.


said, that no one ever dreamt of proceeding against every individual shareholder in a joint-stock company; any penalty imposed upon it fell upon the share capital; and there was one person who could sue and be sued in its name, and who represented the company before the magistrates.


said, that years ago they passed a prohibition of the employment of women underground; that had been perfectly successful; women were no longer employed underground; and why should not a prohibition which had been effectual in one case be effectual in another, without making innocent people liable for acts they had no intention of committing?


wished to say, in reply to the last observation, that females were all distinguished by their attire, while it was impossible to tell from appearances whether a boy were 10, 11, or 12 years of age. Under the Factory Acts employers had for years borne the responsibility which it was now sought to put upon coal-owners; and, until to-day, he had not heard of a single complaint of the administration of the law. The statement of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Leeman) that every individual shareholder in a company might be summoned, was one that refuted itself. Under the Factory Acts the responsibility of proving the age of a person employed was thrown upon the employer, who, through his agent, took the trouble and responsibility of inquiring from parents and guardians the ages of the boys employed. It was his conviction that the moment this responsibility was put upon the coal-owners they would take effectual steps to prevent the employment of children under the proper age; and if by any misfortune they were not obeyed, and they were summoned, he would undertake to say they would not be summoned again. The difficulties and objections urged against the clause were bugbears; and if the Amendment were adopted it would in 99 cases out of 100 be impossible to bring home to employers a breach of the prohibition upon which the success of the Bill, so far as children were concerned, mainly depended.


said, the difficulty in this case turned upon the peculiar words of the section. He could not find anything of the same kind in the Factory Acts, which were couched in different terms. They said that if an offence were committed for which the employer was legally responsible, and it should appear that the same had been committed without his personal sanction and concurrence, it should be lawful for the Inspector to summon him. In other words, before proceedings began trouble was to be taken to ascertain who was the real offender. They did not find in the Factory Acts anything about permitting or suffering a person to do or not to do a thing, words which were wide, without the proposed qualification, particularly when the employer was to be liable to a criminal proceeding. He would recommend that in this case they should either use such language as was used in the Factory Acts, or that at the end of the clause words should be added exonerating the owner who could prove that he had done all that could be reasonably expected of him. It was absolutely impossible that he could exercise any control in individual cases; it would often be impossible that such control could be exercised by the agent of one pit. Therefore, they ought to proceed first against the man who was the immediate employer, and leave him to show that the owner was responsible. Then, if it were shown that the owner had not done what he ought to have done, he could be proceeded against; but he ought not to be punished for a crime which he had not committed if he had informed the agent of his duty. In the first instance, proceedings ought to be taken against those who had immediate control, power being reserved to fall back upon the masters if they had not issued proper instructions. He thought, therefore, that unless some qualifying words were inserted, the Committee would bring people into a danger into which they did not intend they should be brought.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 185; Noes 170: Majority 15.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.