HC Deb 30 July 1873 vol 217 cc1287-306

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [11th June], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


in rising to move the following Amendment:— That, in the opinion of this House, it is undesirable to sanction a measure which would discourage the employment of women, by subjecting their labour to a new legislative restriction to which it is not proposed to subject the labour of men, spoke as follows:—Mr. Speaker*: It will be in the recollection of the House that at the close of the long speech with which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) introduced the second reading of this Bill, not more than about five minutes remained before the debate, by the Rules of the House, had to be suspended. It was only possible for me, during these few brief minutes, to protest against some asper- sions which had, I thought, been unjustly cast upon the character of those employers who are opposed to this measure, and to indicate in very general terms the reasons which have induced me to meet the second reading of the Bill with the Amendment of which I have given Notice. In order to present as clear an issue as possible to the House, I am desirous at the outset to state that the Bill may be divided into two entirely distinct portions. One part of the Bill asks us to legislate for children; by another part of the Bill it is intended both directly and indirectly to subject the labour of adults to certain new legislative restrictions. So far as the Bill affects the employment of children, I have not a single word to say in opposition to it. On the contrary, no one would more cordially welcome proposals to raise the age at which children should be permitted to commence working, to extend the period of half-time, and to provide additional securities for the more efficient education of children when employed as half-timers. So far as we are able to judge from the opinions which have been expressed by employers in reference to the employment and education of children, it would appear that the portion of the Bill which refers to children might be passed with the general approval of the House. It is important to bear this in mind, in order to obtain a distinct idea of the real points at issue between the supporters and the opponents of the Bill. It has been attempted to make the country believe that many of the employers are anxious to have children overworked, and are perfectly indifferent to their education. Probably there is no one in this House who is pecuniarily less interested in industrial undertakings than I am. I have not a shilling embarked in any one of the trades which would be affected by this Bill. This has been one reason which has induced me to assume the responsibility of opposing the Bill. If the Amendment of which I have given Notice had been moved by some employer, interested motives would not improbably have been attributed to him, and perhaps he would have been accused of being more solicitous for his own gains than for the welfare of his work people. As it may be difficult for many of the employers to defend themselves without being charged with self-laudation, I feel bound in com- mon fairness to say that many of those who are most prominent in opposing this Bill are acknowledged to be among the best employers in the country. It has been admitted that there is no one in Lancashire who is more respected by those whom he employs for his great generosity and his judicious kindness than Mr. Hugh Mason, and there is no one who has written and spoken with greater ability and force against the proposals in this Bill to subject the labour of adults to legislative restrictions. Many hon. Members of this House, who hold opinions similar to those of Mr. Hugh Mason, are as much esteemed as employers as he is. Having made these few remarks in defence of those who, in the course of the agitation which this measure is likely to excite, will doubtless be subjected to many unjust insinuations, I will at once ask the House to consider the vitally important issues which are raised by this Bill so far as it will affect the labour of adults. It can, I think, be proved beyond dispute that this measure must operate in one of two ways. It will either be a Nine-hours Bill for men as well as for women, or it will place the labour of women under such serious disadvantages as greatly to restrict their employment. If the Bill is intended to be a general Nine-hours Bill, then the House has not been fairly dealt with; for why do not the promoters of the measure boldly come forward and tell us what they want? If they want this House to decide how long the artizans of this country shall be permitted to work, let them at least have the courage to tell us at what they are aiming. Do not let them cloak their intentions in the garb of a generous zeal for the welfare of women. I am perfectly ready to admit that the hon. Member for Sheffield has emphatically denied that this is a general Nine-hours Bill. He has told us that nothing would induce him to have anything to do with a Bill which would impose legislative restrictions upon the labour of men. But there may be the widest possible difference between what the promoter of an Act of Parliament wishes to be its consequences and what its ultimate consequences may actually be. The hon. Member may not intend this to be a general Nine-hours Bill, but it may become one, in spite of anything that he may say or wish to the contrary. But if it is not, as he asserts, a general Nine-hours Bill, then it can at once be proved that the Bill must most seriously interfere with the employment of women. The labour of men and women is so inextricably intertwined in the various manufacturing processes, that it seems nothing can be more absurd than to suppose that the women, after working nine hours, should be compelled by law to leave the factory, and then the men should go on for another hour working without them. It is therefore absolutely certain that if women are not permitted to work more than nine hours a-day, one of two things will occur: either the manufacturers will be unable to employ their men for more than nine hours a-day; or, if they wished to keep their machinery working for a longer period than this, they would only be able to do so by dispensing with the labour of women altogether or by employing them in double shifts, like halftime children. It can only be proved by experience which of these results will ensue. In those branches of industry in which the labour of women is indispensable—and I believe this is the case with the great majority of industries affected by this Bill—it is evident that if we impose certain legislative restrictions upon the labour of women, we virtually impose the same restrictions upon the labour of men. In some branches of industry, however, in which women form a very small minority of the entire number who are employed, this Bill would probably have the effect of causing the labour of women to be altogether dispensed with, or of reducing them to the position of half-timers. The question, therefore, which the House has to determine is this—Are we, in the first place, prepared for some of the most important trades in the country to enact a general nine-hours' law? Or are we prepared, with regard to other trades, to discourage and prohibit the employment of women? We probably have never been asked to give a decision upon issues of greater importance. Let me begin with the first. I am perfectly well aware of the prejudice which will be industriously excited against those who oppose such legislation as is now contemplated. It therefore becomes of greater consequence that we should make the grounds of our opposition as intelligible as possible. I therefore desire, in the first instance, to affirm that this House has no right to interfere with the labour of adults; and, secondly, if it had the right, it would be singularly impolitic to exercise it at the present time. If we once accept the principle that grown-up persons cannot determine for themselves the number of hours which they shall work, we virtually treat them as if they were helpless children, who find it so impossible to get on without our control and guidance, that we shall soon have to regulate their wages. And when are we asked to start on this career of paternal legislation? When are we asked to wrap the artizan population of this country in the swaddling clothes of babyhood? Why, at the very time when our working classes are proving, in a thousand hard-fought industrial contests between themselves and their employers, that they have not only the will but, the power to protect their own interests. But even if the State had the right to decide how many hours a-day a grown-up person should work, I confidently appeal to the House, whether it would not be impolitic to exercise this right. My chief contention is this—that the working classes can settle such a question as this far better for themselves than the State can settle it for them. No one now would think of invoking the aid of Parliament to determine the amount of remuneration which our artizans should receive for their labour, and if they can regulate the amount of their wages, why, in the name of common sense, cannot they also arrange the number of hours which they shall work? Not only have they the power to decide for themselves what shall be the length of the day's work, but I believe they will decide it far better without than with the interference of this House. Employers and employed know the peculiar circumstances of each branch of industry infinitely better than they can be known by this House. Employers and employed, if left to themselves, can make such arrangements as are most fitted for each special trade. Occasionally it may happen that it may be desirable to work somewhat longer than the ordinary time. The employed recognize the truth of this just as much as do the employers, for it is particularly to be noted that in those trades where the employed have been most successful in shortening the hours of labour, they have always suggested certain arrangements for occasionally working overtime. Arrangements for controlling trade, which are voluntarily made between employers and employed, have not the rigidity and unchangeableness of a legislative enactment. They possess sufficient elasticity to be adapted to the peculiar circumstances of each special case; but this Bill, on the contrary, proposes to lay down one uniform rule for a great variety of industrial processes which often differ widely in the character and quality of the work they require. If we pass this Bill, it will be decreed by an inflexible rule, that in the most important trades in the country no women shall, under any circumstances whatever, work for more than a prescribed number of hours. It has been said, and it will no doubt be often repeated, that it is now too late to raise objections to Parliamentary interference with the labour of adults; such interference was sanctioned by the Factory Acts, and no one would now think of repealing them. As I have before remarked, so far as these Acts refer to the labour of those who are not adults, not only do I not wish to repeal them, but I should be perfectly willing to strengthen them, and to attempt to render them more efficient. But legislative interference with the employment of adults cannot, at the present time, be regarded in precisely the same light as it was when the Factory Acts were passed, a quarter of a century since. The trade of the country has now to contend with many difficulties which were then scarcely foreseen. I shall presently refer to the serious effects which may be produced upon the industrial future of our country by the rise in the price of coal. Again, if the existing Factory Acts are to be quoted as a conclusive argument in favour of this Bill, the same kind of reasoning would justify an eight—nay, even a seven—hours Bill. Lastly, it may be asked—what becomes of the great progress in the people's condition, which was quoted as an unanswerable argument in favour of their political enfranchisement, if they require the protection of the State just as much now as they did 25 years since? Those, I think, do a very serious injury to the working classes, who are perpetually encouraging them to ask the State to do what they could far more effectually do for themselves. It has lately been shown how much more promptly and properly a matter is dealt with when the people take it into their own hands than when they rely upon Acts of Parliament. It will be in the recollection of the House that last year the Home Secretary introduced a Bill with the view of putting down truck. Something like 60 Acts had already been passed with the same object, and we wore told that, in spite of all this legislation, truck was flourishing as vigorously as ever. Directly I read the Bill of the Home Secretary, I determined to oppose it with an Amendment which asserted the principle, that all questions as to the time when, and the manner in which, wages should be paid, had better be settled by the employers and the employed rather than by Parliament. Many came to me then, as they have come to me now, and said—"We wonder that you are insensible to the evils of truck, and that you wish to see them perpetuated." I simply replied—"If I held such opinions as you attribute to me, I would do all in my power to promote the passing of the Home Secretary's Bill; because experience has shown that innumerable Truck Acts may be passed, and truck will continue to exist, until those who are interested in its discontinuance take the subject into their own hands." It could scarcely have been foreseen that the truth of what has just been stated would be so soon proved. The Bill happily not having passed, the Home Secretary was lately asked whether he intended to re-introduce it during the present Session. What was his reply? It was so significant, that I earnestly commend it to the particular attention of this House. After having stated that he did not intend to re-introduce the Bill this year, he went on to confess that one of the chief reasons which had induced him to come to this decision was, that since his failure to legislate last year the working classes had to a great extent taken the matter into their own hands, and had by their own voluntary efforts abolished truck. If Parliament would only once declare that it would never have another Truck Bill introduced into this House, I believe that, in five years, all that is mischievous in connection with truck would have ceased to exist. Just in the same way do I believe that if we would once declare that it was entirely beyond the province of this House to decide how many hours an adult should work, we should do far more to cause the day's work to be adjusted to such a length as would be most advantageous both for employers and employed, than will ever be done by such a Bill as we are now asked to approve. This is not simply a theoretical opinion; for it is to be particularly remarked that those trades in which the hours are at the present time the shortest are exactly those to which it has never been proposed to apply any legislative interference. In the nine-hours struggle which commenced in Newcastle, and has been so successfully continued in other parts of the country, the aid of Parliament was never invoked. But the hon. Member (Mr. Mundella) will probably rejoin: "It is very well to leave men to take care of themselves. They are independent, they are free, they have the power to do what they think is best for themselves. But when we come to consider the case of women, what are they?" The hon. Member has told us that they are servants up to the age of 16 or 17; they then enjoy a year or two of independence; they then marry, and are henceforward the slaves of their masters. In the former debate, some who are opposing this Bill were taunted with being "cold-blooded economists." But we have never been so cold-blooded as to bring such an accusation against our fellow-countrymen. If this assertion were as correct, as I believe it to be incorrect, instead of sending an expedition to Zanzibar to put down the slave trade, we ought to send an expedition to Lancashire and Yorkshire to emancipate our countrywomen from the fetters in which warm-blooded philanthropists are content to see them bound. But the hon. Member was shrewd enough to see that the principles of his Bill forced him into the position of saying that the women for whom he proposes to legislate are slaves. There is only one justification for limiting the hours of labour of women, unless it is proposed to subject the labour of men to similar legislation, and that is, that women are not free agents. This is, in fact, the justification for legislating on behalf of children: they are not free agents; and this suggests at once the fundamental distinction between State intervention on behalf of children and on behalf of adults. But we now have to consider what may possibly be the second effect of this legislation—namely, that it may in some instances discourage the employment of women. Anyone who considers the social condition of this country; anyone who knows how many women there are who have a severe struggle to maintain themselves by toil; anyone who reflects that if a woman is driven from honest labour, she may be forced by dire necessity into a life of misery and degradation, will hesitate to sanction legislation which may possibly have the effect of throwing impediments in the way of women earning their own maintenance. I know that the workmen who are demanding this Bill indignantly repudiate the idea that they are jealous of women's labour. No one would more regret than I should to bring against them any unjust accusations. We are bound at once be accept their assurance that they are no longer influenced by any jealousy of women's labour, and we may indeed rejoice that that is not to happen in the future which has, undoubtedly, sometimes occurred in the past. For fairness compels me to say that our workmen have not always been uninfluenced by this jealousy of women's labour. We cannot forget that some years ago certain trades-unionists in the Potteries imperatively insisted that a certain rest for the arm, which they found almost essential to their work, should not be used by women when engaged in the same employment. Not long since, the London tailors, when on strike, having never admitted a woman to their union, attempted to coerce women from availing themselves of the remunerative employment which was offered to them in consequence of the strike. But this jealousy of women's labour has not been entirely confined to workmen. The same feeling has extended itself through every class of society. Last autumn some of the Post Office clerks objected to the employment of women in the Post Office, which had been so wisely decided upon by Mr. Scudamore; and we have lately had abundant opportunities of judging of the extent to which the medical profession is jealous of the competition of women practitioners. I think it necessary to make these remarks, as we should at any rate be very cautious and very watchful when we are asked to interfere with the employment of women. But we have been told that one of the great arguments in favour of this Bill is, that it is demanded by the fathers and husbands of the women affected by it. But, in pressing this argument, does the hon. Member forget that upon his own authority we have been assured that these very women are in servitude and slavery to these fathers and husbands, and therefore he asks us to place ourselves in the ridiculous position of letting those whom he has himself described as slave-masters, decide what is best for their slaves? But enough has now probably been said on the general principles involved in this Bill. I will therefore proceed to deal with the specific facts and statements on which the hon. Member supports his case. The Government, through the Homo Secretary, having stated that— Greatly as our knowledge has been supplemented by the Report of the Commissioners recently appointed to investigate the condition of the women and children employed in factories, it is not large enough to justify the great economic changes proposed by this Bill, the hon. Member naturally came to the conclusion that this assertion of the Home Secretary must be controverted. Anyone who reads the hon. Member's remarks in the previous debate, and at the same time remembers with how much ability and ingenuity he can speak, will at once see how extremely weak is his case. Instead of directly meeting the assertion of the Home Secretary, he endeavoured to disprove it by introducing a great mass of matter entirely irrelevant to the measure we are now considering. We remember, for instance, the piteous picture he drew of women coming to work in all weathers, be-drabbled in mud and wet up to their middles. He surely does not think that his Bill will regulate the elements, and convert a wet day into a fine one. It really might be thought that there was a clause in the Bill to supply women with waterproof cloaks and umbrellas. He also gave a harrowing description of the evils resulting from working in bad smells and in ill-ventilated rooms; but we look in vain in the Bill for a single sanitary regulation. Again, we had a frightful account of the increasing number of accidents. The fallacies involved in these statistics of accidents will be referred to by subsequent speakers. But it is sufficient here to say that even if it is admitted that accidents have increased, this Bill can exert no influence whatever in diminishing their number. There is not one word in it which would either cause machinery to be better fenced, or which would enable those who may be injured more easily to obtain compensation from their employers. We next listened to an eloquent description of the terrible consequences which ensue from a woman returning to work too soon after her confinement. On the authority of the Commissioners we were told that when a woman thus returned to work, it was virtually a sentence of death to the child. But if this Bill became law tomorrow, a woman would be able to return to work within a week, nay, even a day, of her confinement. It was next attempted to shame this House into accepting this Bill, because we were asked to, believe that in factory legislation, we were behind almost every other European country. In one respect this is no doubt true. In those countries, such as Prussia, where there is a general system of compulsory education, greater security is taken for the education of factory children than is the case in our own country; but, as I have before said, this is not the part of the Bill which we are opposing. We are as anxious as the hon. Member for Sheffield can be to provide additional guarantees for the education of factory children. The point of difference between him and us is, that we object to the new restrictions which he wishes to impose upon the labour of adults; and with regard to this kind of legislative interference, instead of being behind other European countries, we have already imposed restrictions far more stringent than those which have been imposed in Germany, Austria, Baden, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, or France. The Beehive newspaper, the leading organ of the trades-unionists in this country, which has not only warmly supported the hon. Member's Bill, but which has with the utmost asperity attacked those who venture to oppose it, has recently said— England is, without doubt, far in advance of every country in this matter, whether we consider the law itself, or the strictness of its execution. Again, the hon. Member for Sheffield endeavoured to make it appear that the employment of women in the textile manufactures produced great mortality, and was particularly destructive of infant life. He seemed to think that he had proved his case when he showed that there was a much greater mortality among women in the manufacturing districts than there is in four towns in the Black Country. These four towns were alluded to as if they were so unhealthy that the sanitary condition of a district must be most deplorable if it had a higher rate of mortality than prevails in these towns. But on referring to the Returns of the Registrar General, what do we discover? These towns in the Black Country, so far as the mortality of married women is concerned—and the hon. Member was careful to confine his comparison to this point—take rank, not among the most unhealthy, but amongst the very healthiest districts in the kingdom. As an instance of the caution which ought to be exercised in drawing conclusions from incomplete statistics, it may be remarked that the rate of infant mortality is not greater in the textile towns than it is in these four towns where the rate of mortality of women is so low. But now I come to certain statements which the hon. Member made, when he was not anxious to prove the unhealthiness of the manufacturing districts, but when he vas pleading for their healthiness. I should be the last to accuse any man of inconsistency. We all, probably, in some period of our lives, have changed our opinions. [Mr. MUNDELLA: Hear, hear!] Oh, I quite understand that cheer. When I came into this House, when I was younger and perhaps more enthusiastic than I am now, I was more in favour of legislative interference. But is it to be supposed that anyone coming into this House when still young, is to learn nothing from experience? But the inconsistency which I am referring to with regard to the hon. Member is not a change of opinion which has gradually come over him as facts have dawned upon him or as years have rolled by. I wish to direct the particular attention of the House to certain statements he made in reference to the Report of the Factory Commissioners, when a few weeks since he was speaking in favour of the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, and to compare what he then said with the statements he made in reference to the same Report when moving the second reading of this Bill. On the former occasion we were reminded that two Commissioners had lately been down to the manufacturing districts; they had examined 10,000 children entirely at haphazard, and had found them healthy and entirely free from diathetic disease. But this is not the strangest part of the story. The hon. Member was anxious to make a point against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington), who had spoken in the debate on the Contagious Diseases Acts. He therefore said—"Let the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington) see the width and weight of the men of Sheffield, and then he will cease to deplore a sickly population." Well, if the right hon. Gentleman will give a similar invitation to the hon. Member for Sheffield, and ask him to visit the textile towns, he, in his turn, will cease to deplore a sickly population; for he will discover that in the health of their population, whether estimated by the death-rate of women between 15 and 45, or between 45 and 55, or the death-rate of children under 10, the 15 principal textile towns are from 15 to 20 per cent healthier than the sanitary paradise the hon. Member has the happiness to represent. I have now gone through most of the statements of the hon. Member, and I will refer again to the remark of the Home Secretary—that although the knowledge of the Government has been extended by the inquiries of the Commissioners, the facts do not justify such a great economic change as is proposed by this Bill. I hope the Home Secretary is of the same opinion still; I hope this sensible remark of his will not be repudiated by the Government, and that upon this question he represents not only himself, but the Government. I shall be able to show from the Report of the Commissioners, who were specially sent down to ascertain the facts of the case, that the Home Secretary did not speak half strongly enough, and that he ought to have said not only that the facts did not justify the Bill, but that they absolutely disproved the necessity for this legislation. All the facts that I am about to mention are taken from this Report, and their significance is greatly increased when it is remembered that the Commissioners evidently have a bias in favour of this legislation. In the first place, there is this most remarkable fact—they asked 163 medical men whether the present hours of labour were injurious to women. If a great majority of these medical men had answered this question in the affirmative, I could understand this Bill being introduced; but far from a majority being of the opinion that the present hours of labour are too long, only 32 out of the 163 are of this opinion, the remaining 131 distinctly affirming that the present hours are not too long. But this is not all; 171 medical men were asked whether factory labour was especially injurious to women; 99 gave a direct negative to the question, 12 returned answers which were irrelevant, and the remaining 57 chiefly confined their remarks to defective sanitary arrangements, which are injurious to men and women alike, and which are not in the slightest degree touched by this Bill. Medical testimony, therefore, entirely fails to provide a justification for this Bill. I will now refer to another very remarkable admission contained in the Report of these Commissioners. Anyone who is practically acquainted with cotton manufacturing processes knows perfectly well that the great majority of the women who are employed are engaged in the five processes of reeling, doubling, winding, warping, and weaving. The Commissioners themselves admit that three-fourths of the women employed in factories are engaged in one or other of these occupations, and they further admit that these occupations have no debilitating tendency. It is particularly worthy of remark that in almost every instance the complaints of the Commissioners refer to evils resulting either from defective sanitary arrangements, or from the employment of married women. Thus, with regard to defective sanitary arrangements, they speak of cesspools. It surely cannot be supposed that a Nine-hours Bill will empty or purify a cesspool. Once more let me say that there is not a single sanitary clause in the Bill. Then, again, with regard to the employment of married women, it is to be observed that the Bill makes no distinction whatever between married and unmarried women. It has been calculated that only a small minority of the women at work are married. The proportion is said to be about one-tenth. [Mr. MUNDELLA: One-third of the women employed are married.] I believe such an estimate is far too high; but oven if we assume it to be correct, we must remember that perhaps not more than one-third of the married women have young children. Now, the evils upon which the Commissioners lay the greatest stress are to be attributed to women going to work too soon after their confinement, and to their neglecting their young children. Now, it appears from the figures just quoted, that these evils can only happen in the ease of a small minority of the entire number of women who are at work. I will now ask the House for a moment to consider some of the absurdities into which we shall be led if we are prepared to legislate upon the Report of these Commissioners. In mentioning various disadvantages associated with the employment of women and children in factories, there is one subject on which they lay particular stress. They bring forward medical evidence to show that the diseases of the digestive organs prevalent in the factory districts are induced by the excessive use of tea. Well, I suppose, if this mania for legislative interference continues, we shall soon have introduced into this House a Permissive Prohibitory Tea Bill. Having studied the Report of the Commissioners with the greatest care, I believe I am justified in saying that it does not contain one single argument to justify legislative restriction upon the labour of adults. They adduce some facts with the object of showing that certain restrictions should be imposed upon the employment of married women, and they mention many facts to prove that the sanitary condition of the mills, although improving, is still in a state which leaves much to be desired. Now, as I have occupied so much of the time of the House, I will refer very briefly to the vexed question of foreign competition. Others are far more competent to deal with it. I confess I have no special knowledge of the subject; but this I am bound to say, that considering the serious and gratifying rise of wages—serious in one aspect, and gratifying in another—considering, I say, the marked rise of wages in this country, the great increase in the price of coal, the rapid development of manufacturing industry in countries in which formerly there were few manufactures—considering all these facts, we must come to the conclusion that foreign competition presents itself in a very different light from what it did some years since. I can speak with impartiality upon this subject, because I have no personal interest in the matter. But it is a subject which I have examined with the greatest possible care, and I believe this to he the case—that at the present time, in many most important branches of industry in this country, the competition between us and foreigners is so keen and so close, that if you place the slightest legislative impediment in the way of industrial development, the balance may be turned against us, and our trade may greatly suffer. There cannot be a greater delusion than to suppose that with regard to foreign competition employers are chiefly concerned. They have accumulated capital. If trade declines, they can retire from business and live upon their means. But the decline of trade means loss of employment to the labourer, and upon him will fall with maximum intensity the bitter consequences of industrial depression. There is one other consideration which, if the House will allow me, I will present to them for a moment. Now that the artizans of this country have happily been enfranchised, if you once concede their demand for a Nine-hours Bill, where is this legislation to stop? High pledges and great expectations will be held out to them, and at the coming Election we shall see with what eagerness and avidity candidates will rush in and pledge themselves in favour of a Nine-hours Bill. Can there be any security that we shall stop there? Why, what security can we have that we shall not next have an Eight-hours Bill? Some operatives came to me the other day and said—"If you don't give up your opposition, we will demand an Eight-hours Bill." "Well," I said, "you will not stop there; of course, you will demand a Seven-hours Bill." Encourage these demands, and what shall we see? We shall see the industry of this country, we shall see the self-reliance and independence of its people, put up to a demoralizing Dutch auction of degrading promises and delusive pledges. I have opposed this Bill in the interests of the working classes. I ask the House to reject this measure as far as it applies to the labour of adults, because I believe that at the present moment we can render no greater service to the working classes of this country than firmly to check the growing tendency they show to rely upon State intervention. If we encourage this tendency, step by step we shall so enervate them, that at length they will come to us like helpless children and ask us to be their guardians, to say what wages they shall receive, what time they shall go to bed, and to prevent them doing a hundred things which they know they ought not to do. I entreat the House to remember this—that it is not by the act of the despot alone that liberty is destroyed. That vigour of national life which is the only guarantee for freedom must inevitably decline if the Government is permitted to envelop the people in a great network of officialism. I believe the day is not far distant when, if we are not very careful, the labouring classes of this country will find, from bitter experience, that their worst enemy is not the so-called cold-blooded economist, but that they have infinitely more to fear from a misguided benevolence and a mistaken and meddlesome philanthropy. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Resolution which stood in his name upon the Paper.


in seconding the Amendment, said, much had been expressed on this question by the professed advocates of benevolence; but say what they might, they could not establish true benevolence by Act of Parliament. The promoters of the objects of this Bill did not confine their professed objects to the protection of women and children. There was the remarkable fact that the employers of labour in the textile manufactures had offered to concede everything that was just and considerate in relation to women and children; but the promoters of the movement were not satisfied, and agitated for the employment of adult labour, short hours, and increased wages. It was stated in The Times and other papers that the deaths and accidents in manufactories were very great; but he and those who acted with him confined themselves to the manufacture of textile fabrics, and were able to show that the accidents in them were few. The advocates of this Bill did not do so; but they embraced in their calculations various factories in which the labour and danger were great, and amongst those manufactories were blast furnaces. Now with those factories neither women nor children had anything to do. The accidents in the year in those various factories he found set down in Returns at 14,168, including 308 deaths; and it was imputed that women and children were severe sufferers by those accidents, but so far as the textile fabric manufactures were concerned that was not so. Out of the 50,000 accidents of all kinds that annually happened in this country, resulting in 29,176 deaths, only 4,346, resulting in 65 deaths, were referable to our textile manufacture; and he submitted that, so far as the allegation that textile manufactures were fraught with danger to women and children, they were, on the contrary, their best source of help and protection. Then, compare their work with that of the "maid-of-all-work," the poor servant who rose early in the morning and worked hard throughout the long day until 11 o'clock at night, who was an object entitled to sympathy. Why, there was, in fact, no comparison between her labours and those of women and children in the textile fabric manufactories, whose employment was light and agreeable, while that of poor domestic servants was most laborious. With regard to the manufactories in Manchester, he might state that large numbers of the young persons employed in them went in the evenings, when their day's work was over, to dancing saloons, and passed a considerable portion of time in the amusements of those saloons. He thought the House should not lend itself to raise wages by Act of Parliament, and yet such was the object of the Bill now before the House, because to lessen the hours of labour meant, in point of fact, to grant additional wages. The manufacturers of this country, who were most heavily taxed, were exposed to foreign competition—by Russia, America, Germany, Belgium, France, and other foreign countries; and it was a fact that the competitors in those countries had purchased latterly the very best machinery produced by the skill of this country, and, by the aid of that machinery, were now competing with British manufacturers, the cost of production to them being in every respect much less than that of the cost of production in England. Would the employers of agricultural labour in this country like to be told that the hours of labour of their labourers must be shortened and that their wages must be increased? He could not understand upon what principle they could consistently join with the agitators for the adoption of short hours and increased wages in the textile fabric manufactories. This interference with trade by Act of Parliament could not but be productive of the worst results to common industry. The manufactures of the country were not at present in a satisfactory state, as many manufacturers were, he believed, paying wages out of capital. All this ought to make the House very careful not to legislate in the direction of increasing the cost of manufactures, as, if we did; we should most certainly diminish the amount of our business. The hon. Member concluded by seconding the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is undesirable to sanction a measure which would discourage the employment of women, by subjecting their labour to a new legislative restriction to which it is not proposed to subject the labour of men,"—(Mr.Fawcett,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


regretted that his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) was not content with merely expressing his opposition to the Bill, and that he had made an attack upon those feelings of philanthropy which were manifested by its promoters in relation to the working classes. He had always regarded his hon. Friend as a philanthropist, and he should like to know when it was he ceased to be a philanthropist and turned "a man hater." His hon. Friend condemned freedom of contract; but seeing that Parliament had provided 14 years ago for that principle in those Acts, the question now was, whether the freedom of contract ought to be extended or contracted? Let him remind the House how the question now stood. They had come to the conclusion that inquiry into the subject was necessary; and he held that a more fair and important Report was never submitted to Parliament. His hon. Friend the Member for Brighton said that no inquiry and no Report were necessary. He (Mr. Hughes) would show by one or two facts stated in the Report that they were necessary. The hon. Member was proceeding to argue in support of the Bill, when—

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