HC Deb 09 May 1883 vol 279 cc343-54

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move the second reading of this Bill said, he might at once state to the House that it contained no new or exceptional principle. Under the present Factory and Workshop Act a child or person under 18 might not be employed in silvering mirrors, making white lead, or melting or annealing glass, nor a girl under 16 in making or finishing bricks or tiles not being ornamental, nor a child under 14 in dipping lucifer matches, and so on. He submitted that the class of work he was now asking the House to prevent young girls under 14 years of age from being employed at was equally objectionable to any of the trades he had enumerated. The brick trade was heavy work for young females, and, indeed, also for grown women. The tile trade was not so heavy, and probably not so injurious to health; therefore, if the House had already prohibited young females under 14 years of age working at the manufacture of tiles and the making of bricks, it could not reasonably refuse to prevent their children being taught the trade of the blacksmith. His Bill would be much better understood if it had been termed a proposal to prevent young girls being taught the trade of the blacksmith. That really was its object. The objectionable nature of the business had been exposed by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Factories many years back, and they had submitted to their chief in London the desirability of grappling with the great evil which women and young females had to contend against in the Black Country. It was not the jealousy of trades unionists which had made the discovery of the objectionable character of this work for girls. It was thought that the increase of education would ultimately destroy that system; but the report of the Inspectors a few years back showed that the school accommodation of the district was very limited, and the means of education quite inadequate. The report declared that the moment the Inspector showed himself in the neighbourhood, the fact of his arrival was telegraphed so rapidly from one shop and one street to another, that all the young children and many of the objectionable scenes in the works disappeared. He had also the greatest difficulty in ascertaining the ages of the children or their school attendances. There was one case in which the schoolmistress certified that a child had attended school 512 times in one week, and when asked to explain how that could be she confessed she was not the best of scholars at writing figures, and that possibly mistakes had occurred. The Inspector went on to describe the nature of the work and its unsuitable character for women and young girls, and showed that the em- ployment of females in such trades was attended with the worst results, and that the men sought for girls as wives who were celebrated, not for the qualities which would make them good wives and mothers, but for the number of nails or the length of chain they could make in a day. The Inspector's report went on to show that wives were compelled by their husbands to work simply to provide them with money for drink; and it also spoke of the wretched and lifelong misery which lay before the women engaged in the nail and chain trades of South Staffordshire and East Worcestershire. The reasonable proposal which he now made to the House was that young female children under the age of 14 should no longer be permitted to be taken from the cradle into the blacksmith's shop and there taught to forge for the rest of their lives, at a wage which was a disgrace to the country and to the trade which flourished on such a condition of misery and starvation as was shown in the Inspector's report. He understood there was to be some opposition to the Bill; but he appealed to hon. Members to support it, not only in the interests of these poor people, but also in the interests of the country at large. The opposition to it was, no doubt dictated by the foggers and the truck shopkeepers who throve upon this class of labour; but he asked hon. Members to disregard their plea, and to listen to that of the poor mothers and little children. Mr. Redgrave, who, as the House was aware, was always most anxious that his reports should bear the test of the fullest criticism, summed up his annual report by saying, with reference to the report of his Sub-Inspector, Mr. Brewer, that that report was "undoubtedly sensational," and that he could not put into type what Mr. Brewer and others had said on the condition of the Black Country, but that he believed, from what he himself had seen, that the statements were true, and to the remedy he would respectfully leave the Royal Commissioners, before whom he laid Mr. Brewer's report. The Royal Commission had, however, done nothing, and the argument used on a former occasion by the hon. Baronet the Member for Walsall (Sir Charles Forster) was that this state of things would cure itself. He did not ask the House to prohibit female labour in the chain and nail and bolt-making trades altogether. He only asked that female children should not be allowed to be employed in them. One argument brought against his proposal was that if children of 14 were not allowed to commence they could not learn the business. That was not the case, for any intelligent woman of any age could readily learn it. It had been said that there were not many female children engaged in these trades, and that not more than 12 or 14 girls would come under the operation of the Bill; but it was also argued that the measure he proposed would cause a serious derangement of the trade. These arguments were inconsistent; but he thought it was nearer the truth to say that more young girls would come under the Bill than some hon. Members supposed. He would point out, however, that it would be difficult for well-dressed people to discover the real amount of young child labour engaged in the shops, for on the approach of strangers the girls would be sent from the place. Another argument was that the nail-making was not a laborious occupation, and was more of a pastime to keep the children out of mischief. But it was not a question of the labour involved in making a particular nail, but the weary working on for hours and days at that laborious occupation; and he had seen females of very tender years indeed engaged in making great spikes, four and five and six inches long, in which they had to bring to bear an immense amount not only of skill and quickness, but a very great amount of physical strength. They had to forge the iron bar in the fire, to take it out and cut it up into 6-inch lengths, put each piece into the place made in the anvil, hold the header and make the spike. Afterwards they had to point the spike. [The hon. Member illustrated the mode of nail-making with a small machine which he exhibited to the House.] He said that the girl while holding the nail with the tongs, had to use her foot to work a large hammer which did the work ordinarily done in blacksmiths' shops by the striker. This work was pursued 6 to 11 hours a-day by children of tender age. It was a disgrace to the country that it should be permitted. In one shop he had seen a woman of 25 working at chain-making. She was the mother of three children, two of three and four years of age, and one six or eight months old. She worked 10 hours a-day at chain-making, and during that time she was so occupied she had to engage a foster-mother to look after her children. Let her work as hard as she might her income amounted to only between 5s. and 6s. Out of that she had to pay subscriptions towards canning the chains to the buyer, for wear and tear of forge, for coal, and for the care of her baby during six days a-week. At the end of all her toil this poor woman earned the magnificent sum of 2s. 4d. and sometimes 2s. 6d. in wages. In addition to that, her work had to be done in a dirty shed with a stifling atmosphere, when it was not relieved by a strong draught blowing from square openings in the walls. There seemed to be an opinion that what was required to put an end to this state of things was only additional Factory Inspectors. The bodies with which he was connected had been continually asking for such appointments, but hitherto the staff had not been increased. As far as he could see, there was no hope of the appointment of fresh Inspectors sufficiently numerous to grapple with the evils he had mentioned; and, besides, no Factory Inspectors had power to prohibit the employment of young girls in this labour. The Bill dealt with a trade carried on not in factories and large workshops, but in little huts in the back gardens of nearly every cottage in the district, where effectual inspection was all but impossible. He earnestly begged the House to read the Bill a second time. No one need fear to destroy such an industry as this, or to let in foreign competition. Better a thousand times that there should be foreign competition in this trade than that its iniquities should continue, and that young girls and women should, so to speak, forge their lives away for a miserable profit of 2s. 6d. a-week.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Broadhurst.)


, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that the Bill was wholly unnecessary, mischievous in its provisions, and would be cruel in its operation. He believed he could show that it belonged to that class legislation destined for the benefit of the few rather than for the many. The Bill applied only to the nail shops, for, practically, screws, nuts, and bolts were manufactured where girls of this age were not employed. The hon. Member who moved the second reading was perfectly right in attributing to him the opinion that the best way of grappling with the subject was by extending the system of factory inspection, and with this view he had given notice of his intention on the Civil Service Estimates to call attention to the want of a sufficient number of Inspectors in this district. There was no doubt that irregularities did exist, but the only and best way to meet them was by carrying out the proposals of the existing Act. It seemed to him that the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke, and the speeches of those who acted with him in the country, all pointed to the same conclusion, that it was impossible to carry out the Factory and Workshops Act by an inspection such as was provided—in the Dudley district, for instance, where an Inspector and an assistant had to contend with 1,300 factories and over 6,000 workshops. The existing staff could not deal with such an extent. The hon. Member spent a great deal of his speech in denouncing the truck system; but that was simply putting up an evil to knock it down again, for there could not be two opinions about that system. All were opposed to the system, and, that being so, he need not trouble the Committee by dwelling upon it any further. It was almost the unanimous opinion of employers, of clergymen, of people who were able to form a judgment on the Bill and had seen it, that it would practically ruin the district, which was an exceptionally poor one, and where there was no other employment for those women to take to. The hon. Member said he did not wish to debar women from working in the nail shops; but, on the other hand, he could not help remembering a certain meeting of a trade's union committee, a deputation from which met several Members of Parliament and discussed the question; and the hon. Member then said that what they wanted was to eliminate female labour altogether. The House had always been particularly jealous of any interference with, or further restriction upon, female labour; and it had been thought a good thing by some persons to endeavour to stop this particular kind of girl labour, so that girls would be debarred from learn- ing the business, would seek employment elsewhere, and gradually be eliminated from the trade. But this district in question differed from others in that there was no other employment in the neighbourhood, no factories to work in, no want of domestic servants, and, moreover, there was no wish among the persons concerned for any further interference. The work was not so hard, in spite of what the hon. Member said. Olivers with 301b. force were not used by women, and the only heavy work in which young persons were employed was the spike nail trade. Now, he had taken the trouble to ascertain about this spike nail trade, and he found that although there were nearly 60 families engaged in it, only four of them were under age. If the Bill were only to deal with this particular trade there would be no objection to it—certainly none on his part; but they should not debar children from working at a trade which was certainly fitting for them. Under the Education Act children up to 14 years of age worked half-time, and with this Bill in force these children would be at home doing nothing. He had a letter from a man in the district having opportunity and means of forming an opinion, which stated that if children were debarred from working at the trade under 14 they would lose that suppleness of wrist which was essential to good work. The hon. Member spoke of the wages as a miserable pittance; but there was one thing he did not mention—that the women worked usually not more than four days, sometimes five days, a-week, and therefore the wages represented considerably more than would appear from the speech of the hon. Member. The whole spirit of the Bill came from outside, from the chain-makers in other districts, who thought that with woman labour eliminated from the trade their wages would increase. This was the whole gist of the question. He could claim knowledge of the district not inferior to that of the hon. Member, whose acquaintance with it was of three hours duration, in the course of which he asked the secretary of the association to show him some of the worst cases. If the Bill were carried, it would only have the effect of driving the trade out of the country; it would not improve the position of the men in this or other trades; it would debar young people from learning the rudiments of the trade, and the result would be a foreign supply or the manufacture by machinery. He had a great many letters from persons in the district, but he did not think it necessary to put them before the House. He hoped he had said enough to justify the contention with which he had started, that the Bill was unnecessary, would be mischievous and cruel in its operation, and unworthy of meeting its assumed object.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words" upon this day six months."—(Mr. Monckton.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


pointed out that, instead of affecting the labour of a limited number of children in Staffordshire and East Worcestershire, the Bill would put a stop to the employment of all girls under 14 years of age in any large factory where nails and screws were made. No doubt, such a result was not anticipated by the hon. Member for Stoke, and therefore he thought his hon. Friend might do well to bring in an amended measure on a subsequent occasion. There was already a considerable legislative interference with the labour of women and children. Women were not permitted to work in coal mines, and there were many restrictions in regard to the employment of children in factories. And it was a very grave matter that the House should be asked in a short Bill of this kind to make an alteration in the age at which children might be employed under the Factory Act. As he interpreted the sub-section to Clause 1 of this Bill, it would prohibit girls under 14 from being employed in the packing up of nails and screws and preparing them for sale in any factory where the manufacture of nails and screws was carried on. These were perfectly harm-loss occupations, and he was sure the House would never sanction such a provision.


failed to gather from the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke any definite information as to the number of persons whose sufferings called for legislation which would seriously interfere with the conditions of general employment. Young girls were already sufficiently protected by the Factor Acts, which required examinations by medical Inspectors. He considered that the plan of making children "half-timers," and so gradually introducing them to full work, was a much better mode of dealing with them than by keeping them from all work till the age of 14, and then letting them take their chance. So far from it being a disadvantage to children entering trade at an early age, it was often kinder to allow; them do so, as it enabled them to earn higher wages afterwards. He warned the House against depriving any portion of the poor people of the country of their employment, and he contended that the evils which might exist in Staffordshire and East Worcestershire could be remedied by the appointment of an additional number of Inspectors. For these reasons he should vote for the Amendment.


said, it had been his fortune very often to listen to the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. A. Arnold) instructing the House as to the construction of clauses of Bills, and he had scarcely ever known the hon. Member come within measurable distance of accuracy; but the hon. Member had never displayed a more lamentable incapacity to understand the English language than on the present occasion. The most extreme interpretation could not by any possibility bring the class referred to by the hon. Member for Salford within the scope of the Bill. The hon. Member for Salford had evidently misunderstood the provisions of the Bill, as it proposed to deal only with young girls who were employed in the rolling, forging, stamping, and hammering of iron, and did not touch those who were engaged in sorting and wrapping. His object in rising, however, was to say that he understood that his hon. Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill was prepared to support a measure for preventing young girls being employed in heavy work. If that were so, it was for the Government to consider whether it was not possible so to amend the Bill as to prevent even a few cases of hardship. He had no doubt that if the hon. Member for Stoke were to bring such a Bill before the House it would receive careful attention; but it was very necessary to watch over any measure so as not to brutalize women by allowing them to be engaged in degrading occupations. He was in favour of giving the Bill a second reading and modifying it in the direction suggested by his hon. Friend.


said, he had received a large number of communications on this subject from workpeople and employers in East Worcestershire, and found they were unanimously opposed to the Bill. He knew his own constituency well, and was not aware any ground existed for imputing insanitary conditions to the nail trade. The intentions of the hon. Member for Stoke were no doubt benevolent, but he seemed to know little of East Worcestershire. He (Mr. Hastings) wished the industrial condition of that county to be let alone, and should therefore vote against the Bill.


thought the House should not favour sweeping restrictions on the employment of girls under 14, for it was important that children should receive industrial training at an early age. As one who had taken great interest in the Factory Acts, he could not support the Bill. It was in many cases very important to their best interests that these children should obtain employment. He greatly regretted the low rate of wages so much complained of by the hon. Member for Stoke; but it was a direct result of the unequal and unfair foreign competition brought against English labour by the system of one-sided Free Trade, of which the hon. Member himself was understood to be a supporter.


said, that the Royal Commission appointed in 1876 to inquire into the Factory and Workshops Act had carefully considered this very question, and their Report on it was the longest they had made in connection with any particular trade. When he was Home Secretary and had to draw up the Bill of 1879, he was at first inclined to include the girls employed in the nail trade within its provisions; but after careful investigation he came to the same conclusion as the Commissioners had arrived at before him, and decided not so to include them. The question was fully discussed when the Bill of 1878 was in Committee, and the feeling against a proposal of this kind then made was so strong that it was not pressed to a division. He hoped the Government would not give way upon this matter; but there was a danger to be guarded against arising out of the wish of the men to stop the work of women for the purpose of keeping up their own wages. Children were generally employed in such work as blowing bellows, and not in hard toil; but there was nothing more degrading in a girl using a hammer than there was in her working a sewing machine.


said, that residing, as he did, where the works to which reference had been made were carried on very extensively, he had no hesitation in stating, without fear of contradiction, that a healthier, more robust, or more active class than the workpeople of the Black Country did not exist in the United Kingdom. This remark equally applied to the women. If in this age of such widespread competition this country had to compete successfully with other countries, it was absolutely necessary that our working-class population should begin at an early age to understand the nature of their work. As regarded these young girls, the law protected them from unfairness, and the work they had to do was comparatively light. It should be borne in mind, too, that all the children to whom reference had been made were only half-timers. By beginning early in life they were enabled later on to earn very much larger wages than they would otherwise do. Knowing the feeling on the subject among the working classes in his district, he should vote against the Bill.


said, he rose in order to put the House in possession of the facts as to the number of persons employed in these trades, for they had not yet been laid before the House. It appeared from the Reports that there were 896 shops in which the nail and chain trades were carried on. Of these, 364 were shops in which men only, or men with their wives, or women working as occupiers, and, consequently, exempted from inspection, were employed. There were 323 shops in which men and women, or women only, were employed, and were subject to modified inspection only; 183 in which young persons were employed; and 26 in which children were employed. And the Inspector further stated that in only nine workshops female children were employed, and these children numbered only nine altogether. The majority of the people employed in these workshops were women, but not young girls; and, as a matter of fact, the Bill would only affect the nine children. He thought the hon. Member for Salford was right in his view of the construction of the 1st clause of the Bill; but any doubt on that subject might be removed by a suitable Amendment. The question was, whether it was worth legislating for so small a class as nine persons? He himself did not think it desirable.


thought that any measure dealing with a long - established trade ought to be well considered; and he was, therefore, in favour of the Amendment.


said, he had no wish to stand between the House and a division; but, reference having been made to the Report of Mr. Brewer, regarding a district with which he (Mr. Staveley Hill) was acquainted, he wished to state, from his personal knowledge of the district, that the Report in question was absolutely unreliable and untrustworthy.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 44; Noes 124: Majority 80.—(Div. List, No. 89.)

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.