HC Deb 19 February 1875 vol 222 cc556-67

in rising to move— That a Select Committee be appointed to ascertain and report how far it is expedient and practicable to extend the provisions of the Factories (Health of Women, &c.) Act, 1874, to manufactures and occupations other than textile, and further to consider and report upon the consolidation of all existing Factory and Workshop Regulation Acts, said: I am not sure that I quite comprehend the scope of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, "when, last evening, in replying to a Question by the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Tennant), he intimated that the Government proposed to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the Factory Acts; nor am I certain whether he proposes to embrace in that inquiry all that is covered by my Resolution. I will, therefore, as briefly and as clearly as I can, state my reasons for asking that a Select Committee be appointed as proposed in the Resolution. From a Return made in 1871—the last Return on the subject—I find that there are 1,258,000 women, children, and young persons under Government protection so far as regards Factory and Workshop Acts. By passing the Factory Act of 1874, the principle was affirmed that on sanitary and educational grounds it is the duty of the State to interfere for the protection of children and young persons. The Factory Act referred to embraced only textile factories, in which 667,000 women, children, and young persons were employed. Under that Act children can only be employed at 10 years of age as half-timers, and subsequently for full time at the ago of 14. There is a provision that a child who has passed a certain educational standard may begin at 13 years of age to work full time. Of the 591,000 women, young persons, and children who were not affected by the Act of last year, 210,000 were under Factory Acts passed prior to 1874. Their condition is very different. Children are allowed to work half-time at 8 years of age, and full time at 13, whatever may be the state of their education. Those factories are limited by law to work 60 hours a-week; but, practically—owing to certain modifications and exemptions—they may work on an average 63 or 66 hours. It cannot be urged that the occupation of those engaged in them is more healthy, or their toil less severe, than that of those engaged in textile factories. Mr. Redgrave, one of the Chief Inspectors of Factories, in a recent Report, says— The experience I have had of the nature of work in all kinds of factories and workshops is that old factories—that is, textile factories—show abundant proof of the fostering care of Government, and that occupations infinitely more unhealthy, and labour twice as hard physically, are to be found in the factories brought under inspection by the Factory Acts of 1864 and 1867. And adds— I know of no cotton factory in which young persons have to endure a temperature of 120 degrees as they have in the stove of a pottery; I know no labour more severe than that of a fustian cutter; or I know of no occupation more deadly than that of a millstone cutter. The remaining 381,000 were under the Workshop Act; but, as the Returns in respect to workshops are very incomplete, I believe it is a moderate estimate to take the number as equal to those employed in textile factories. What are the hours of labour? Nominally the same as in factories, but practically much longer. The work may be performed at any time between 6 in the morning and 8 in the evening by children, and from 5 till 9 by adults. The consequence is, that unless the Factory Inspector carefully watches the time at which each individual begins, he cannot with any certainty enforce the law. Children may therefore be employed long hours without fear of detection. Then, again, under the present Act it is extremely difficult to tell what is a workshop and what is a factory. For instance, you may have a small machine-making establishment with two boys and two men employed; and if driven by steam-power this is a factory. In the adjoining premises, under the same roof, driven by the same steam-engine, employing 40 children and five men, another establishment engaged in making buttons is in the eye of the law a workshop. In the former, whore there are two boys, they must be registered; but that is unnecessary in the latter. In the former, there must be a medical certificate of the ago of each boy employed—in the latter, nothing of the sort. In the former, the boys can demand two full and eight half-holidays a-year—in the latter, the boys cannot claim even Christmas or Good Friday. In the former, the machinery must be fenced—in the latter, there is no such provision. In the former, sanitary regulations must be carefully observed. The factory must be clean, well-ventilated, and the walls whitewashed. As regards workshops there are no such provisions. What makes the absurdity of the position more apparent is, that you find men employed in the same trade under different laws. A brickwork with 50 men and one boy employed is a factory. Another brickwork where 40 children and young persons are employed and only five men is a workshop. It is unjust alike to employer and employed to have laws so different applied to industries the conditions of which are identical. I will now call attention to the conditions which have arisen since the passing of the Education Act of 1870. Last Session the Vice President of Council on Education said in this House— That in most large towns compulsory bye-laws had been adopted, and it was unanimously determined that a child should be kept at school till the age of 10. The Education Act of 1870 gives no power to interfere with children employed in factories or workshops; these children being under the educational clauses of their several Acts. So far as the Act of 1874 is concerned, it is in harmony with the Act of 1870. Children cannot work in factories until the age of 10, and they must attend efficient schools sanctioned by the Privy Council. The position of children employed in work-shops is very different; they are only required to attend school 10 hours per week—that may be at any time during the week; and if they are absent from work during one day in the week, they cannot be compelled to attend school during that week. What is the consequence of this irregularity? Good schools will not receive those children; and Mr. Redgrave has, in one of his Reports, made the melancholy confession— We are driven to accept mere apologies for schools, and greatly to our dissatisfaction to countenance what is after all a mere mockery of education. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) justly characterized the Workshop Act as an Act for preventing education. There is another reason why we should have no unnecessary delay in legislation—it is an undoubted fact that the measure passed last year is not national but sectional in its character. In Blackburn there are 17,302 women and children and young persons engaged in textile manufactures under the Act of 1874, while there are only 1,009 otherwise employed, and therefore exempt from its provisions. In Sheffield there are 12,236 employed in the industries of that town, but not one of them has the benefit of the Act of 1874. I have this morning received a letter from a well-known cotton-spinner in Bolton, a supporter, I believe, of the right hon. Member for South-west Lancashire, who writes that the consequence of the exemptions of brick-works, paper works, &c, from the Factory Acts is, that children are sent to these trades because they can be employed one year younger than in textile factories, where they have often a difficulty in keeping the machinery going for want of children. The matter is made worse by the labour in these places being more severe than in cotton mills. If this anomaly is not removed by law, he says, there will be serious difficulty in getting hands for the cotton mills. It might be said that there had been no agitation in reference to this question. To some extent this was true, and the reason was obvious. Last year the Government led this House and the country to expect that a Select Committee would be appointed to inquire into the whole subject as soon as possible; but as that has been delayed, the consequence is, that in many parts of the country there is already a certain amount of agitation. In my own neighbourhood, large meetings have been held in connection with bleach-works, and I believe the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) has a Bill to bring before the House, with a view to give those employed in bleach-works the benefit of the Act of 1874. I think it not at all unlikely that we shall have hon. Members introducing Bills for many trades which have not the benefit of that Act. They may urge—and I do not see how you can resist the argument—that what is good for children and young persons employed in cotton factories cannot be bad for children and young persons employed in glass or iron works, and that what is fair for a cotton spinner cannot be unfair for an iron founder. We have already had too much piecemeal legislation in connection with our factory system. There is nothing more to be deprecated than continually re-opening up this question, and I believe if the country is assured. that we are to have a full inquiry with a view to legislation, the result will be awaited with patience. I come now to the last portion of the Resolution—that relating to consolidation, the importance of which can scarcely be overrated. Fortunately, there is no difficulty in proving its necessity. We have no fewer than 15 Factory and Workshop Acts, and so complicated are they with exemptions and modifications, and conflicting clauses, that they are very difficult to understand. The experience of the sub-Inspectors, some of whom are men of great educational acquirements, and of magistrates and Judges who have to make convictions, all tend to the conclusion that the sooner the present state of things is remedied the better. Lord Colonsay, the late Justice General of the Scotch Court of Session, gave it as his opinion that it would be a great assistance to those who had to administer the Factory Acts, if there was one consolidated statute. Mr. Fraser, the well-known author of The Law of Master and Servant, said these Acts refer to a class of the population whose labour and education they regulate, to whom clear directions are absolutely necessary, and yet a more confused jumble of legislative enactment does not exist in the Statute Book. Another authority which the House would receive with the highest respect, the Home Secretary himself, said, last Session that nothing would give him greater satisfaction than to bring before the House a measure for the consolidation of the whole of the Factory Acts. The task would be rendered comparatively easy if the two broad principles applied to the Act of 1874 were adopted. One was, that no child should be employed in a factory under the age of 10 years. The other was, that a child must be sent to an efficient school sanctioned by the Education Board. By the Act passed last year, the Home Secretary has shown that he is in favour of the policy of protecting children and young persons, a wise and beneficent policy, which, by making them stronger and better educated, must in the long run tend greatly to increase the wealth and prosperity of the country. I do not ask for hasty legislation; but I would urge on the House that, with the least possible delay, a question so deeply affecting alike employers and employed should be fairly, fully, and calmly considered with a view to further legislation, and that laws, which are acknowledged to be in a state of confusion, should be consolidated and rendered intelligible. In conclusion, I beg to move the Resolution which stands in my name.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to ascertain and report how far it is expedient and practicable to extend the provisions of the Factories (Health of Women, &c.) Act, 1874, to manufactures and occupations other than textile, and further to consider and report upon the consolidation of all existing Factory and Workshop Regulation Acts,"—(Mr. William Holms,)

—instead thereof.

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


said, he agreed with much that had fallen from the hon. Member, who had evidently a thorough understanding of the subject. When the question was before the House last year he (Mr. Cross) stated—at any rate he intended to state—that it was the intention of Government to take a broader view of the matter than was laid down in the Act of 1874, and to bring forward a measure for promoting the health and education of the children and young persons employed in other than textile manufactures. At that time he also stated that no one was more painfully aware than himself of the confusion into which the Factory Acts had fallen, and that he was determined to remedy the evil. To that statement he still adhered, and he hoped the hon. Member would credit him with an intention to carry out the policy then announced, although he had not moved in the matter so early in the Session. The amount of school attendance enforced at present was a mere shadow, and such a state of things was absolutely indefensible. Different rules prevailed in different trades, children were therefore employed in some trades much longer than in others, and the consequence was, that before legislation could be attempted it would be necessary to have full information upon the subject. Therefore, all the Government had yet done towards carrying out its declaration of last year was to consider what form the inquiry had best take in order to lead to a satisfactory result. He had hinted last year that the Government would consent to the appointment of a Committee for that purpose, but further consideration had led them to the conclusion that a Royal Commission would be preferable. He would only say now that he was determined that all children employed in manufactures should, as soon as possible, have the benefit of as much education and enjoy such advantages of health as legislation could secure for them. With these two objects in view, the Commission would be appointed, and, having said this much, he hoped the hon. Member would not proceed with his Motion.


expressed the pleasure he felt at the course which the Government intended to pursue. He thought his hon. Friend (Mr. W. Holms) would feel that his object had been gained, and would not press the subject further. Although a Committee might, in some respects, have been advantageous, he cordially accepted the Home Secretary's proposal that the necessary information should be collected by a Royal Commission. He thought a Commission would be the most likely to furnish complete and exhaustive information.


said, he was gratified at hearing that the Home Secretary would completely redeem his pledge of last year by the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into this subject. He (Mr. Mundella) believed the proposed legislation was just as essential in the interests of education as in the interests of health, and he had had the pleasure of introducing a deputation from school boards to the late Vice President, who represented to him that it was utterly impossible to obtain a fair standard of education while children were employed in workshops at 8 years of age. That was so, for one of the effects of the Education Act of 1870 had been to bring into existence a larger number of what were called "private adventure schools," but which were in reality schools of evasion. They were not under any inspection, there was not any register kept, and no instruction could be given to the children, since, in many instances, those who represented themselves as teachers did not know how to read or write. The children were sent to those schools just as they might be put into any other house for a certain number of hours each day. They were schools established only for the purpose of satisfying the requirements of the Workshops Act. Yet he was informed that in one of the largest towns of England, 20 per cent of the children were attending these schools. He was thankful that the Home Secretary was prepared to deal with the whole subject, and he trusted that when the Royal Commission had reported, he would have the courage to take up the question of juvenile labour in an effectual manner. If they enacted that no child should work until 10 years of age, and should until then attend an efficient school; and also that they should not pass to the category of full-time labourer until they had passed a certain standard of education, they would do much for the health of the children of the country, but more for their education, and would give satisfaction to most employers throughout the length and breadth of the land. Whatever interests might be represented in that House, he trusted hon. Members would all feel it to be their duty to secure a uniform good education to all the children in this country, whatever might be the employment in which they were engaged, and to protect their health as far as possible. He quite agreed in the policy of consolidation, and to show its necessity, he might mention that he was lately in the suburbs of a large town, and found that in one district no less than seven Acts of Parliament were in force—two relating to textile fabrics, three to workshops, and four to mines; but the brickyard and agricultural children were under no inspection whatever. In conclusion, he could only express the hope that the hon. Member for Paisley would not press his Motion after the statement which had been made by the Home Secretary. The object they had in view would be more effectually secured by the appointment of a Royal Commission than by an inquiry before a Select Committee of the House. He felt sure that hon. Members of both parties and of all shades of opinion in the House would give credit to the Home Secretary for an earnest desire to promote in every way the educational and social welfare of the people.


concurred generally in the remarks of the hon. Member who had just spoken, and expressed a hope that the Home Secretary would extend the proposed inquiry to all children in all the different trades. Such a course, he believed, would be in accordance with the views of his constituents, and he tendered thanks in his own name and in theirs for the decision to which the Home Secretary had come. During the last Election he found that a great change had taken place in the feelings of his constituents on this question. At one time the parent was jealous of restriction upon his child's labour; but the effect of recent legislation had been entirely to alter opinion on the subject, and he knew no question of greater interest than the protection of children by an extension of the principle of the Factory Acts. If the Government continued to aid private Members in this way, and endeavoured to carry out what was most essential for the good of the people, they would not fail to gain the support of the country generally.


said, he would not have troubled the House, but for a reference made to himself by the hon. Member for Paisley. Last Session those engaged in bleach-works and dye-works placed themselves in communication with him, with respect to the extension of the Factory Acts to their occupations. At their request he had a Bill prepared, and he was about to introduce it; but having learned from the Home Secretary that the Government intended to issue a Royal Commission for the purpose of inquiring into that as well as other trades to which the Workshops Act applied, he at once gave up the intention of introducing such a Bill. He could only say, with the right hon. Gentleman who had already spoken, that he greatly preferred a Commission to a Select Committee. His constituents were much in favour of a Royal Commission, believing that inquiries made on the spot, or in the immediate locality, were much more likely to be effective than an inquiry made in one of the Committees Rooms of the House. No class to whom such inquiries formerly applied, or for whom Parliament had legislated, were, he believed, more deserving of attention than those women and young persons who were employed in the bleaching and dye-works of this country. He hoped the hon. Member for Paisley would withdraw his Motion, and leave the matter in the hands of Her Majesty's Government.


said, he thought the hon. Member for Paisley had every reason to be satisfied with the answer which he had received, though it did not come exactly in the form which he had asked for. He (Mr. Dalrymple) had no more opportunity of knowing beforehand what was the opinion of Her Majesty's Government on the proposal of the Motion than the hon. Member for Paisley had, but, having called the attention of the House to the subject two years ago, and pointed out the inadequacy of the staff of Inspectors, under the Factories and Workshops Acts, he would take the liberty of making a few observations. It was even more important, in his opinion, than the consolidation of the Acts, that they should be enforced. Unfortunately, however, owing in many places to the insufficiency of the inspecting body, the Acts could not be said to be enforced. On the former occasion he brought forward a variety of evidence to show how very ineffectual the enforcement of the Acts was in the Black Country, in Bedfordshire, and other portions of the Midland Counties. The same remarks might be made now in regard to some of these districts. Two years ago he mentioned Bromsgrove and its neighbourhood, and since that time a great improvement had taken place there. The vicar had written, in answer to his inquiry, that shortly after the subject was brought before the House, in 1873, a very intelligent and determined sub-Inspector was appointed, and very good work had been done. But that strengthened his (Mr. Dalrymple's) case, for that enterprizing and active sub-Inspector had also under his charge a large portion of the Black Country, in which, he said, owing to the smallness of the inspecting body, it was impossible to overlook the numerous workshops under his charge. In one year, though he had made 2,000 visits to workshops, this sub-Inspector had not visited more than one-fourth of the entire number under his charge. There were 33,000 nailers in the district, and what was one Inspector among so many? As to half-timers, there were said to be 1,000 in the district, a figure which looked very well, but which was highly delusive, because the irregularity of attendance at school was so great. To show in one word what the inadequacy of the staff of Inspectors was, a calculation had been made that to visit 109,324 workshops would occupy 3¾ years for the present staff, at one visit to each workshop. It was needless to say that one visit in the period was entirely insufficient. It was notorious that, owing to the rarity of Inspectors' visits, advantage was taken by the people in every possible way. A gentleman well-known to him (Mr. Dalrymple), and whose evidence on the subject was quoted in 1873, and who had done all he could to bring the case of the nailers before the public, had written to him (Mr. Dalrymple) that the moment the Inspector was seen all sorts of dodges were resorted to. Boys were put in sacks, and lads under eight years were present during the visit of the Inspector, but unseen by him. There was room also for much amendment with regard to half-timers, and he considered the fine for non-attendance ought to be higher than it was. In reference to the subject generally, it was of the highest importance; and as had been said by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) and another hon. Member on the Opposition side of the House, no children under 10 years of age ought to be employed in the workshops, and certainly no women for more than eight hours a-day. It was terrible to think that men should be allowed to enjoy themselves in public-houses whilst women and children were allowed to work for a length of time that was most injurious to them. It was not necessary to detain the House longer, as a Royal Commission was to be appointed; but he wished especially to call the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the condition of affairs in the Black Country, and to point out the importance of instructing the Commission to have regard to the enforcement of the Acts as they stood, as a matter preliminary to any extension, or even consolidation, of the Acts. It was undesirable and mischievous that Acts should be at once unrepealed and unenforced.


said, that after the frank statement of the Home Secretary, he should ask the leave of the House to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.