HL Deb 24 May 1819 vol 40 cc668-70

On the order of the day for the third reading of this bill,

Lord Auckland

addressed their lordships in support of it. He dwelt on the hardship and cruelty of employing children under ten years of age in the sweeping of chimnies, which this bill went to prevent. Another great hardship was, that of sending children out to do what was called crying the streets for employment; and that was also to be done away. The number of apprentices kept by each master was to be limited to four, in consequence of which, these would meet with better treatment from their masters; and no female children were to be employed in climbing. It was also provided that the summary convictions should take place before two justices. All these provisions had met with the approbation of the principal persons employed in the trade of sweeping chimnies, and also with the approbation of colonel Stephenson, surveyor-general of the board of works, who would give every possible encouragement to the use of machinery. His lordship concluded by expressing his hope that the House would agree to this bill.

The Lord Chancellor

argued strongly against the bill in its present shape, and, to a certain extent, against its principle. The learned lord referred to several inac- curacies or inconsistencies which still remained in the bill, which rendered it very unfit for the sanction of the House. In the bill as originally sent up, these were more numerous and striking, but still it contained a great deal which he regarded as highly objectionable. With respect to the prohibition against crying the streets, he wished to know what was the legal interpretation of that phrase. Was it intended that chimney sweepers should no longer give notice by the sound of their voice that they were in the streets ready to be employed? If so, the masters would give notice as effectually by knocking at every door, and making a loud noise with their brushes. Another absurdity in the bill was, that of inflicting a penalty for employing "any female-girl, or woman." Now, it would be difficult to find a girl or a woman who was not a female. He disapproved of the principle of legislation on which it proceeded: it would be much better to afford the relief which might be deemed necessary, by some general bill, which would extend its enactments also to other trades, which, more or less, might be considered as requiring legislative regulation.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

denied that there was any absurdity in the wording of the bill. That clause which went to check the inhuman practice of making females clean chimneys, was thus worded:—"Any female child, girl, or woman;" so far it was correct, and it was very proper to put a stop to so shocking a practice. He earnestly hoped that their lordships would not throw out the bill.

The Earl of Lauderdale

observed, that if machinery were to be employed, boys would still be exposed to as much danger as they were hitherto. He objected to this bill, because it was not fit for the legislature to lay down rules of humanity to individuals; because, by doing so, the very principles of humanity would be rooted up: for greater cruelties would then be practised, than any which the bill went to provide against. It was impossible, without great injustice and public inconvenience, for their lordships to legislate on subjects of this kind. It was somewhat of the same nature with the bill for regulating the labour of children in cotton factories; and with the poor laws. These latter originated in a mistaken spirit of humanity, the attempt to enforce which by law, had produced effects the very opposite of those which were intended; together with all that complicated mass of evil, which was now felt in every part of England. If the legislature attempted to lay down a moral code for the people, there was always a danger that every feeling of benevolence would be extirpated, it was like making a law to regulate the mode in which a painter was to execute his work. The painter might conform to the law, but his taste would be destroyed. For these reasons, he should oppose the bill.

Lord King

supported the bill, because he understood it met with the concurrence of most of the master chimney-sweepers, and because he thought it would be productive of great benefit.

Lord Auckland

addressed their lordships, in reply. He said, the bill did no more than adopt practical rules, that had been laid down by persons in the trade, for the better conduct of the trade; and as it tended greatly to promote the principles of humanity, by mitigating the hardships to which children were subject, he hoped their lordships would not object.

The House then divided: Contents, 12; Not Contents, 32; Majority against the bill, 20. The bill was consequently lost.