HC Deb 25 April 1873 vol 215 cc991-1001

in rising to call attention to the evasions and failures in the enforcement of the Workshops Act in different populous districts of the Country, and to move—"That, in the opinion of this House, the present staff of Inspectors is altogether inadequate to carry out the provisions of the Acts," said, that already during the present Session the subject had in various ways directly or indirectly, been brought before the House, and he himself had put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary on the 14th February, the reply to which made him think it was advisable to bring the subject still further before the public. His object was that the Workshops Act should no longer be a dead letter, for want of anything which Parliament could do to remedy the existing evil, but to ensure that it should be enforced, and give to populous districts all the benefits it was intended to produce. Two things out to be stated at the outset. In the first place, he did not bring this subject forward in hostility to the Inspectors, of whom as a body he knew nothing but what was favourable to them; and if there had been failures in the enforcement of the Act, it was because the Inspectors were unable to be everywhere at once. One Inspector who had volunteered to him (Mr. Dalrymple) some valuable evidence, wrote to this effect—"We do not shrink from work, but it is disheartening to see a greater amount of it imposed upon us than it is physically possible to carry out." Further, it was said that the evasions of the Act were of a casual nature, and due to local causes, but the instances which he intended to mention to the House were not of an exceptional character, and he believed that many similar ones might be discovered. Ever since the Amendment Act of 1871, by which the duty of inspection was transferred from local authorities to the Inspectors and sub-Inspectors of factories, had become law, there had been an insufficient number of Inspectors. As an illustration, he might refer to Leek, in Staffordshire, where the inhabitants themselves had volunteered to come forward, rather than allow the law, in this respect, to be a dead letter. The number of workshops therein was 320, and of factories 42. It was true that there the Act was in full operation, but it was due to local zeal, and not to the state of the law that such was the state of things. The point which it was right to insist on was that legislation beneficent in its intention and useful in operation was a dead letter in many districts; and without dwelling on the loss to such places of having the law inoperative; what was to be said of the evil of having the law at once unrepealed and unenforced? Thus he had been himself told by the Vicar of a populous district in the Black Country that they knew what the law was, but they had begun to find out that it would not be enforced. He would first mention to the House a district of 7,000 inhabitants, between Stourbridge and Halesowen, near Birmingham, where there were 700 nail and chain shops, in which the children sometimes began to work before they were 12 years of age, and were engaged in blowing, which was very exhausting work; and, strange to say, there were no half-timers at school throughout that district. The violation of the Act there was not confined exclusively to small shops, but there was the instance of a large shop where the Act was regularly broken. That was really a typical case, because the district in which it occurred was a new one; it was neither town nor country, but was just the place where evasions of the law might be expected, unless there was proper inspection. In Bromsgrove the Act was also to a great extent unenforced, and the Vicar of that place, in his communication to him, said that some authority was wanted to rescue the Act from becoming a dead letter. The case of Bromsgrove was notable, because at one time the Act had been enforced there, and at the present time, through laxity of inspection, it was inoperative and required immediate attention. Similar complaints were made with regard to Oldbury and Halesowen; in fact with regard to the former place he had been informed that the half-timers had lain in wait for their schoolmaster and pelted him with brickbats because he had made an example of one of their number. At Luton, where the straw manufacture was carried on, a better state of things appeared to exist, arising from the advantage of increased inspection. The vicar stated that until lately the Workshops Act was a dead letter there, but within the last three months the Inspector, who had been recently appointed to enforce the Act in that town, had been the means of bringing into the girls' school of the parish 112 half-timers, in addition to the number that previously attended it; and that he had caused an increased attendance at the boys' school. From Houghton Regis in the same neighbourhood, the Rev. Mr. Smyth, the vicar, informed him that there were 300 children under instruction; but that there was a deficiency of regular inspection. The Home Secretary admitted on a former occasion, in answer to a Question which he had put to him, that the Workshops Act had not been enforced so much as he could have wished, and he mentioned illness among the sub-Inspectors as probably the cause, and he expressed a hope that by the adoption of School Boards, armed with the principle of compulsory attendance, and their cooperation with Inspectors the number of Inspectors would not require to be increased. In 1871, however, the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a Question from him (Mr. Dalrymple), said that he was afraid the Act could not be carried out effectually without the appointment of more Inspectors, and he supposed he must assume that the Education Act having come into operation, the Home Secretary did not now consider the increase of Inspectors necessary, but so far as experience went, unfortunately, the Education Act and the Workshops Act were rather conflicting upon this subject. In fact it had been pointed out to him that while one body of Inspectors were endeavouring to drive children into school, another body of Inspectors were trying to drive them out. The general result of the communications that had been sent to him was, that the Education Act would not supply the deficiency of the Workshops Act. Both in fact were needed. The Workshops Act ought to do—if he might so express it—in the gross, what the Education Act, happily elastic in its application to varied circumstances and places, could only do in detail, here and there as opportunity offered. One defect in the Workshops Act was, that it released parents or employers from the necessity of sending to school children who were not employed during all the week, and it had been pointed out to him that if a man spent the first working day of the week in drinking, but kept a child employed from Tuesday every day up to Saturday, he had a legal right to withhold that child from school. Here was apparently a fatal defect in the Act, and he did not know whether it had been before noticed. What he asked for was, that the Workshops Act, as it stood, should be enforced, for when as was the case, our factory legislation was the object of admiration and of imitation even in other countries, it would be highly discreditable if it were allowed to get out of gear at home. He did not, as a rule, think it was of much importance to quote the example of foreign countries; but he had lately seen an interesting volume—a translation from the German of a work on English factory legislation—by Herr Von Plener, to which a preface was subjoined from the pen of the hon. Member for Sheffield. In that book it appeared that in Germany, in Switzerland, in Sweden, in France, and elsewhere, our factory legislation had been carefully imitated. He had noticed, too, that the Danish correspondent of The Times had lately mentioned that a Bill was before the Parliament of Denmark, having for its object the promotion of factory and workshops regulation. His Motion indicated what he considered to be necessary; all his correspondents were agreed in desiring increased inspection as the remedy for the cases of non-enforcement of the Act. He could not help hoping that good might have been done by again calling attention to the subject, but of how much greater importance would it be, if those who had charge of the factory legislation of the country would determine that the Act should for the future be everywhere enforced; if they would but determine by increased inspection, by turning the light of authority full upon places where the Act had been hitherto neglected, that for the future it should be a dead letter nowhere, but that it should be everywhere in operation to the full extent of its benevolent intention, and to the incalculable advantage of large and populous districts of the country. The hon. Member concluded by proposing the Amendment of which he had given Notice.


said, that as the original Motion had been carried, that he do leave the Chair, the hon. Member was precluded by the forms of the House from moving his Amendment.


said, he wished to express his thanks to the hon. Member for Bute (Mr. C. Dalrymple), for having brought forward the subject, and at the same time to compliment him on the able manner in which he had done it. For himself, he must say that with one or two exceptions the local authorities had neglected their duty in not putting the Act into force. It was true the Inspectors had reported that the Act had begun to work here and there, and Nottingham was referred to as a place where it was working admirably; but the fact was, that in the small workshops outside the town, and outside the reach of the local authorities, the state of the children had become worse there than it was before. In 1871, the Home Secretary introduced a measure which was a step in the right direction, but it had not been thoroughly enforced—owing to the want of more vigour in the Factory department—by the appointment of more Inspectors. In Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire there were no Inspectors. In many places within those counties, children were kept to work as late as eleven o'clock at night towards the close of the week, and from many places not a child was sent to school under the Workshops Act. The appointment of superannuated policemen to enforce the Act would be a great advantage, and would not incur a large expense. The honour of initiating factory legislation belonged to this country, and at first it was useful and beneficial in its operation; but foreign countries were now surpassing us in the liberality and effectiveness of their legislation on this subject. Our education and labour laws wore in conflict instead of in harmony with each other, and the result was, that the Workshops Acts often operated as a hindrance to the working of the Education Act, inasmuch as the Education Board were always met with the remark that they had no power over the children employed in workshops, seeing that they came within the operation of the former statute. From the Report of a Commission on the employment of women and children in France lately issued, it was found that the most deplorable consequences issued from the neglect and overwork of children. The annual concsription tested the physical results of this neglect and overwork. In rural districts 14,000 conscripts were required to furnish 10,000 recruits; in the towns, where the physical conditions were worse, no less than 24,000 conscripts were required to get 10,000 efficient recruits. That arose from the wretchedness, the infirmity, and the diminished stature and general debility educed by overwork and want of proper sanitary conditions. In fact, nothing could be more painful or humiliating than the report of the French people, and the remedy which was recommended by the French Commission was to prohibit entirely the employment of French children up to 10 years of age, and to allow them to be employed halftime only whilst between 10 and 13. That was, in fact, a close approximation to the system which prevailed in Germany and Switzerland, which had been found beneficial in its operation. No more important question could occupy the attention of the Government or Parliament than were the measures which wore necessary to give the rising generation of workers a healthy physique and a good education, and he hoped that the Government would see that the provisions of the Workshops Act would be rigorously carried out. That would be impossible if there were no additional Inspectors; and if it cost a few thousands a year, it would be nothing compared with the beneficial results to the education, training, and health of the future generation.


said, with regard to the assertion of the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), that the Workshops Act of 1871 had fallen into universal neglect, he was afraid it was owing to the fact that it was one of the cases in which the Treasury had refused to sanction useful expenditure. He regretted that the number of Inspectors had not been increased, for unless the number was excessive prior to the extension of the Acts in 1871, it was obviously insufficient now, and he disapproved the intention to have only one Chief Inspector, whenever either of the present Inspector-ships became vacant. A Recorder who was once presented with a pair of white gloves by the borough authorities rebuked them for their negligence in not detecting crime when he knew a vast amount of it existed, and those who supposed these Acts were being enforced were similarly ignorant of the actual state of the case. Under the Factory Act, the Inspectors had to deal with large factories under one general management; but under the Workshops Act the inspection of workshops was much more difficult, owing to their small size and out-of-the-way situation; and the wide range of hours of labour—they might begin at 5 a.m. and need not close till 9 p.m.—threw a difficulty in the way of the Inspectors, who could not after an exhaustive day see that they closed at the last-named hour. The Inspectors were being employed to a certain extent by School Boards as visiting agents; whether this was in accordance with the intentions of the Government he did not know. On the passing of the Act of 1871, the Inspectors were increased from 45 to 53, but 100,000 workshops and 3,000 brickfields were added to their charge, so that the increase was insufficient for the additional duties imposed, and that fact, Mr. Baker, in his recent Reports had brought out very distinctly. Pressure was being put on the Members of that House by the industrial classes to obtain an extension of the Factory Act and a further limitation of the hours of labour. Whether it would be wise or unwise in Parliament to yield to that pressure he would not take on himself to pronounce, but this at least he would say—the working people of this country were entitled to insist that the laws which had been enacted should be firmly and effectively carried out.


said, he felt perfectly certain that if the complaints made respecting the insufficient operation of the Workshops' Act were correct, it could not be from any lack of sympathy on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He humbly conceived the cause was to be found somewhere else. There had been, he feared, a reluctance to spend money in carrying out this Act. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Not the least in the world.] He was delighted to hear it. Then there was no reason why the Act should not be brought into successful operation. The Legislature having given its sanction to these remedial Acts, it would be far better for the Government to carry them into legitimate execution, and give the Workshops' Act, in particular, a fair chance of seeing how far it was calculated to mitigate the evils against which it was directed. That there had been a reluctance to put the Act into effective operation in many districts there was no question, it being abundantly proved by the fact that many School Boards had brought it to the knowledge of the Inspectors that there were a great many more children in their various districts than attended the school, and as they were not in the streets they must be employed in the workshops. He cordially supported the views of his hon. Friend the Member for Bute (Mr. C. Dalrymple), and hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to tell them how far the Act had been brought into operation, how many Inspectors had been added to the staff since 1871, and would also give the House some information as to what had been done in relation to labour in brickfields. A considerable number of Inspectors, even of lower qualifications than those they had been in the habit of considering essential to the operation of the Factory Act, should be appointed, and all the energies of the Department be brought to bear in carrying into execution these Acts, which, he agreed with the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), constituted a most glorious chapter in the history of the country, but which certainly those who passed them were in hopes would be carried into more full operation.


said, that, like many hon. Members who were not present, he thought this a most important discussion, and he was of opinion there were two questions at the foot of the matter. The first was, was it right for Parliament to legislate for the prevention of overwork and other grievances? The second was, could they provide the machinery for enforcing that legislation? To the first question Parliament had replied by passing several Acts directly intended to put an end to the specific evils arising from overwork by women and children; to the second, they had endeavoured to reply by creating a staff of Inspectors to see that the regulations enacted in these Acts should be properly operative. The complaint now made was this—with every desire and every effort on the part of the Government to do its duty with reference to seeing that these Acts were observed, they were not enforced. In fact, they were evaded too frequently as they saw by the newspapers—infa- mously evaded—and he attributed this in many respects to the Government too often asking, "How much will it cost?" Moreover, the penalties inflicted were insufficient to deter interested employers from violating the law. He quite agreed that they ought to have a staff of Inspectors equal to the work to be done, and if it cost a few hundreds or thousands more, the money could not be better spent than in enforcing the humane statutes passed by the benevolence of Parliament. He trusted the Government would take the subject into their careful consideration, so that the public might be satisfied and the real object of the Acts carried into effect.


said, he had great pleasure in acknowledging the moderate and dispassionate nature of the language used by the hon. Member for Bute (Mr. C. Dalrymple) and other hon. Members in treating on the subject, and would venture to give a slight sketch of the legislation that had occurred with regard to it. Our factory legislation had remained without extension for many years, and from 1833 to 1864 it was entirely confined to textile manufactures in great establishments, the supervision of which was comparatively easy, although it took several years to bring the Acts into effective operation. In 1867 the late Government endeavoured to extend the operation of the Factory Acts to a still more considerable number of the working classes, and the Workshops' Regulation Act was passed with that view. He agreed that the time must come when that legislation, careful and cautious as it was at first, would require revision, and that every day was showing what its weak points were. The Act of 1867 made no provision for an inspection similar to that provided by the Factory Acts, but left the matter in the hands of the local authorities. What was the result? In a few places, such as Leek, for instance, the Act was vigorously and usefully enforced, but in general it was entirely neglected; and it was in consequence of his being dissatisfied with the enforcement of the law being left to the local authorities that the Government introduced their measure in 1871 to place the workshops under the charge of the Inspectors of Factories. In the autumn of that year it was his duty to consider how inspection could be best applied to the extended number of establishments, and after full deliberation he applied for an addition of eight Junior Inspectors, being assured by those most competent to judge that with that addition the Acts could within a short time be thoroughly enforced. He had no doubt great progress had been made—so much, indeed, that it was idle to talk of the law being a dead letter. The hon. Member for Bute (Mr. C. Dalrymple), who used that term, had himself shown that the law was by no means a dead letter in one district; and he (Mr Bruce) might charitably suppose that what had taken place in that district had also taken place in others, which was, indeed, the fact. In 1864, when the first considerable amendment of the law was made, the number of sub-Inspectors was 22; the number added then was six; in 1867, 17 more were appointed; in 1871, eight; and recently he obtained the permission of the Treasury to appoint three more. The Reports of Inspectors in the hands of hon. Members came down to April, 1872, when there had not been time for new arrangements to take effect; and Reports to be issued soon would bring the work down to October, 1872, when it would be seen that, although all workshops had not been reached, the law was far from being a dead letter. There were 16,361 factories, and to these had been paid 18,011 visits. There were 63,431 workshops, and during the last six months 17,000 visits had been paid: but it would not be accurate to assume that all the 63,000 were workshops requiring inspection. In many, neither women nor young persons, nor children were employed; and in many, too, the hours fell short of those allowed by the Act. There were 1,739 brickfields, and 1,321 visits had been paid. With regard to them, it must not be supposed that every brickfield unvisited was also uninfluenced, for the news of what happened in respect of any of them travelled very fast, and a conviction in one case soon produced a wholesome effect in others. He must further observe that it could not be necessary that all the children under the operation of the Acts should be visited, or else the number of Inspectors required would be truly formidable. The Inspectors had a right to expect, and were daily receiving valuable assistance from workpeople, local authorities, the clergy, school boards, and the general public; and one of the Reports about to be issued contained important testimony on this head which indicated what might be expected in a not remote future. The noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) had suggested that an inferior class of Inspectors might be appointed; but he should be very reluctant to entrust the duty of inspection to uneducated persons, or to change a system that had worked on the whole so successfully. In conclusion, he would assure hon. Gentlemen that his anxiety as to the enforcement of the Acts and as to their importance continued as strong as ever; but his opinion was that it was best to proceed with caution, and not too rapidly.