HC Deb 29 March 1878 vol 239 cc261-7

(Mr. Assheton Cross, Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson.)


Order for Third Reading read.


said, that he did not intend to offer any factious opposition to the Bill passing, and he must repeat the observations he had previously made—namely, that the Bill unduly interfered with the hours during which adults might work. That kind of legislative interference with adult labour deserved the most anxious consideration of the House. He was not one of those who took a gloomy view of the commercial position of this country; but no one who had devoted the smallest attention to the subject could deny this fact—that English trade had to carry on a much keener and much closer competition now than it had to carry on with foreign countries 30 years since; and it seemed to him, to say the least, a perilous position for the House, in the face of this keen and close competition, to say what should be the length of the hours to be worked by any particular industry, not leaving that question to be decided by those who were the most interested and those who were the most concerned—namely, the employers and employed. Five years ago, there was a Bill before the House which was called a Nine Hours' Bill. That Bill was made a Nine and a-half Hours' Bill; but what security had they that some day they might not have an Eight and a-half Hours', an Eight Hours', or even a Seven Hours' Bill? If they once sanctioned the principle of saying that the House should decide what should be the length of a day's work in our great branches of industry, they could feel no security that they would stop at nine and a-half hours. It might come to nine hours, or it might come to eight hours. Again, there was another aspect which this country ought to remember when dealing with such a question. He denied altogether the right of the House to place any impediment whatever in the way of the women of England earning their own livelihood. It was all very well to consider an ideal state of society, in which every woman, when she came to a certain age, should be married and be in a comfortable condition of life, the husband working for her and she at home looking after her domestic duties and attending to her children. That, no doubt, was an ideal which they would all like to see realized. But in politics they had not to do with ideals. They had to face hard facts, and what were the facts with regard to the social condition of this country. There was no fact which was truer, there was none which was more apparent than that hundreds of thousands, he might almost say millions, of women were not thus provided for by husbands, and they had to earn their own livelihood in the best way they could. If they closed to them the avenue of honest employment, depend upon it, at the same time, they opened wide the portals which led to vice, misery, and ruin. He knew it was constantly said that the women of this country had not complained of this legislation. He believed that statement was not altogether correct, because he had received frequent complaints from different parts of the country of the injustice which was inflicted upon women by this legislation. But it was impossible for the Home Secretary or the House to measure the mischief which might be done to those women who had to earn their living by employment at those industries, by legislative interference such as that which was contained in that Bill. If they said to the employers of this country—"You can employ men without any legislative restrictions, but if you employ women we shall impose upon you all kinds of restrictions; you must only leave your workshops or your factories open at certain times; you must have fixed times when your workpeople shall take their meals." What would be the result of all that? Why, no one could doubt that it placed impediments in the way of employing women; it rendered their employment less advantageous than it would otherwise be, and by rendering it less advantageous there was nothing more certain than that they diminished the value of that labour, and by diminishing its value decreased its remuneration. Therefore, from whatever point of view the subject was looked at—whether from the point of view of the general industry of the country, or whether from the point of view of the effect it had upon the social condition of the women of the country who had to earn their own livelihood, he maintained that the House was going beyond its legitimate functions in attempting to intervene with regard to regulating the hours of labour and conditions under which adults should be permitted to be employed. But nothing was further from his intention than to offer any factious opposition to the passing of this Bill. He was aware that the great majority of that House was against him; he was also aware that the great majority of the country at the present time was against him. He believed, however, that public opinion was advancing in the direction of industrial freedom, and the sole reason he had had in making these remarks was that another day, when public opinion might possibly have changed, it should not be said, if then he attempted to raise the question again—"You sanctioned this principle in 1878 without protest; you then allowed the re-enactment of this legislation without objection." He hoped the Home Secretary would think that he had not unduly opposed his Bill. He had not gone further than the limits of Parliamentary opposition, nor would he ask the House to express its opinion upon the third reading of the Bill. He knew the issue would be an erroneous one, because some portions of the Bill all approved. Certainly, he approved of the regulations which secured the education of children, and was intended to prevent their excessive employment. Therefore, a division on the third reading would be a division against portions of the Bill with which they all agreed, as well as those to which he objected. He had, however, ventured to trouble the House with these few remarks in order to place upon record, as he had done in the past, that he objected to the House attempting to interfere with regard to adult labour.


said, no one could possibly appreciate more than he did the action of the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett). He had a strong objection to some parts of the Bill, but he had not trespassed upon the House in the slightest way unduly, and he (Mr. Cross) was much obliged to him for the course he had taken that night. At the same time, he honestly differed from the hon. Member for Hackney to a great extent, and he thought it but right to give expression to his views, as the hon. Member had done; and, being a native of the county of Lancashire, where a great many manufactories existed, all he could say was, after having read everything he could lay hands upon which related to the subject—and he thought hon. Members would agree with him—that the state of the manufacturing populations since the introduction of the Factory Acts had considerably changed; whereas, if the Factory Acts had not been passed, the populations in these counties would have considerably deteriorated. In fact, they were actually deteriorating when the Acts were passed; and, that being so, he hoped it would be a long time before the House interfered with their working. He desired to make one remark as to the time when the Bill came on for consideration. To everyone who asked him about the Bill, he said it was impossible that it should be brought on that night. But it did come on, and he would remind the House that, with the exception of two, every Amendment on the Paper was accepted by him that night and introduced into the Bill; and although hon. Members who had Amendments on the Paper were not all present, he announced to the House all the Amendments he had accepted. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) he did not introduce into the Bill, and for this reason—that his noble Friend the Lord President of the Council was introducing a Bill into the House of Lords that evening, in which a clause relating to the casual employment of children, and to which the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow referred, was introduced. Therefore, he thought it was much better to come down in that way. The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) would acknowledge that the most important of his Amendments were accepted; and as to one he did not accept, he thought he should have been able to show, had the hon. Member been present, the great difficulties in the way of adopting his views, and to which he was sure the hon. Member would have assented. He thanked both sides of the House for the way in which they had assisted the Government in passing the Bill through Committee in all its stages, and he hoped that might be considered for a long time a settlement of the question. It would, at all events, be a great boon to all those who were in the habit of seeing the Factory Acts carried out, for they would be able to see in a Bill of about 100 clauses exactly what the law was, and not have to look from Act to Act for information—so that, he believed, hardly an Inspector, having to deal with the Acts, could thoroughly give an honest opinion as to what really was the state of the law. He thought the fact that they had gained that was something. It was not the theory of the Factory Acts that Parliament wished to interfere in the least with the hours of labour of any person who, in the opinion of Parliament, was able to think for himself and judge what number of hours he could work without detriment to his health. Therefore, men had always been excluded from the Bill as far as hours were concerned; and as far as safety was concerned, that was another matter. As far as the labour of women was concerned, he quite agreed that wherever adult women could be left alone they should be. The hon. Member for Hackney had made a mistake when he said the Bill would interfere with the labour of ordinary women who were working for their own livelihood. It did nothing of the kind—with such women it had nothing whatever to do. In fact, anyone who went through the Bill would see that the tendency had been to relieve, to a great extent, many cases of restriction upon adult women from the provisions of the old law. He again thanked the Committee and the House for the attention they had given to the Bill, which, he hoped, would now be read a third time.


said, as one who had Amendments on the Paper to the Bill, he felt it his duty to corroborate what the right hon. Gentleman had said. He had given up all intention of moving his Amendments, the right hon. Gentleman having informed him that they had been adopted as clauses in an Education Bill now passing in the other House.


said, the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) had said that the Bill was a reflection on the great body of people who had been entrusted with political power. He disputed that statement entirely. The Bill was not intended to protect those who were already protected by their friends, but to protect those who were open to and liable to have injustice done them. He was glad the right hon. Gentleman had brought in and carried that Bill—a fact which would redound to his honour and credit as a statesman. He was confident that the people of this country would never return to the condition of things relating to the employment in factories which existed 30 years ago; and if the hon. Member hoped to live to see a return to those times, he (Mr. Macdonald) believed he would arrive at an age which no one had ever yet been known to attain.


agreed with the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), that the least possible restrictions should be put on female adult labour; but he must add that, instead of increasing those restrictions, that Bill lessened them. He congratulated the Home Secretary on having achieved what was a most useful result—the consolidation of an enormous mass of matter. They knew the difficulty which had arisen from the former state of things, and he hoped the assistance which the right hon. Gentleman had had from the House in passing that Bill would induce the Government to turn their attention to the many other subjects which required similar treatment. If the Home Secretary, when the day came for him to retire from office, left behind him many as useful Consolidation Bills as the one they then had under consideration, ho would certainly have earned the thanks of the whole country.


observed, that in his absence the other evening the Home Secretary had accepted two Amendments of his, to which he attached real importance. A good deal of feeling had been excited in Ireland in reference to the subject to which he was going to call attention; and the Amendments he was going to move, as they now stood in the Bill, would give perfect satisfaction and remove all difficulties. He thanked the Home Secretary for having accepted his Amendments.

Bill read the third time, and passed.