HL Deb 07 July 1831 vol 4 cc922-30
Lord Wharncliffe

said, he rose to move the second reading of two Bills, which he had laid on their Lordships' Table, for preventing the payment of wages in goods. He was convinced, that unless the Legislature interfered to prevent the increase of that practice, the whole of the manufactures of this country would, in a very short time, be conducted on that most objectionable system. He could not bring himself to think that any of their Lordships, or any unprejudiced manufacturer, could suppose that the universal establish- ment of such a mode of paying wages was, or could be, conducive to the prosperity and interest of the manufacturing population. It was worth their Lordships' while to sec how this system had grown into practice. In the first place, he would state, that many laws had been passed to check it: but, as it now appeared, they had been ineffectual and inoperative. If, however, they looked at those statutes, they would find that every one of them carried within itself that which rendered it useless and inoperative. He had, therefore, endeavoured to avoid a similar error in the second bill which was before their Lordships. Some of the circumstances which had led to this improper state of things, he admitted, could not be avoided nor averted by the manufacturers; but, the adoption of the practice by others, and the extent to which it was carried, could only be accounted for by the love of gain. In some instances— but they were very few—that mode of payment might be serviceable to the workmen. Thus, in some remote and distant parts of Wales, where the population found it very difficult to procure necessaries, a shop kept by a manufacturer, who acted on fair and honest terms, might be useful and beneficial to the workman. One of the great sources from which this system sprang, was the return to cash payments. The manufacturer found it difficult to procure money to pay his workmen, and, therefore, he paid in goods. After awhile, however, the manufacturer found that he could make considerable profits by acting on this principle, and it was adopted to a very great extent. The workman stipulated to work for a certain rate of wages, and the master paid him, not in money, but in goods. The temptation to make considerable profit was here too strong to be resisted; and, in many instances, what the master paid to the workman as being equivalent in value to 1s., was only worth 9d. Another circumstance connected with this practice was, that the workman frequently received that which was not useful to himself or to his family. He was, therefore, obliged to carry it elsewhere, and to sell it at a considerable loss. A manufacturer, who employed 4,000 or 5,000 men, though he made but a small profit on each, yet, in the aggregate, his profits were so enormous, that they greatly exceeded the actual profits of his trade. He was often surprised when he found manufacturers selling their goods for less than their original cost; but he found that the immense profits derived from the truck-system enabled them to do so. Some of them made pot less than 14,000l. or 15,000l. a-year by the adoption of that system. He was quite confident, that if their Lordships did not consent to pass a bill on this subject, they must make up their minds to the universal payment of workmen in goods, and those who paid honestly and fairly in money would be driven out of the market. The effect of this system on the workmen was extremely pernicious. When he formerly knew that class, they were an independent and laborious body. They respected their masters, because they viewed them as friends. But now, in all the disputes between the masters and the workmen, the latter viewed the proceedings of the former with extreme distrust and jealousy, because they believed that the manufacturers wished to oppress and to deal unjustly with them. And what, indeed, was better calculated to excite this feeling than to compel men to take goods when they ought to receive money? He liked to see the workman fairly independent of his master, receiving his wages in money, and buying at any shop he pleased to select, that which he really wanted, instead of having thrust upon him more bacon or more flour than he had occasion for, and which he must of necessity dispose of at a disadvantage. The articles which were given to him in lieu of wages were frequently things which were perfectly useless to him. They were so various and so ill-assorted, that they reminded him of the cargoes that were sent out some years ago to Buenos Ayres, when the rage for speculation existed, and individuals sent skates and warming-pans to that torrid region. He next would inquire how this system must operate with respect to competition. Why, it would compel the fair paymaster to reduce his price; but, still the truck-master would have a great advantage over his antagonist. The system destroyed, at the same time, the character of the workman and of the manufacturer. Then, again, let their Lordships mark the way in which it affected the retail dealer. Many places in the neighbourhood of manufactories were full of small tradesmen, who sold large quantities of goods to the workmen. But, when shops for the supply of the same articles were set up by the manufacturer, the ruin of the traders ensued, as a matter of course. They ought to consider the operation of this system, both at home and abroad. Every article should fetch the value of the labour expended on its production, and the cost of the material. But if, instead of receiving that price, the manufacturer, in consequence of the profit derived from the truck-system, sold his goods at a cheaper rate than he manufactured them, that certainly could not be a prosperous and wholesome state of things. If it were possible that the truck-system could be carried on fairly and honourably, he would have no objection to it. Were the workman to get the real amount of his wages, he would not quarrel with it; but it was quite clear, that he was taken advantage of by the unfair manufacturer. The main objection to an interference with this practice was, that it was contrary to the principles of freedom of trade, as taught by the science of political economy. Now, he meant to speak of that science, and of its professors with great respect; but he thought from what he had seen of it, that no science was more uncertain in its operation and its effects. He would maintain, that this interference was not opposed to political economy. But, in his opinion, the allowing the manufacturers to pay in what he must call a base currency, instead of paying in sterling money, was contrary to those principles. The Legislature had a right to say, "Here is the current coin of the realm; we insist on your paying your workmen in that medium." If the workman chose then to buy from his master, it was very well; but, certainly he ought to have the option of going where he pleased. It should be observed, that the workmen in these cases were not free agents. The master, by his superior means, could so entangle the workman, that the latter must deal with him. To prevent this, he proposed, in the first instance, to repeal all the laws now in existence on the subject. Secondly, he proposed an enacting bill, the provisions of which, as he had before stated, were certainly severe, because he thought, that the evil required a severe remedy. That bill would enact, that the manufacturer should not pay in any other medium, than the current coin of the realm— that if wages were paid in any other mode except in the current coin of the realm, the workman might again claim his wages, and the master should not set off any goods paid by him against the amount of such wages; that the punishment of any master for the first offence, should be a penalty of not more than 10l. nor less than 5l.; for the second offence, a penalty of not more than 20l. nor less than 10l.; and, for the third offence, he should be deemed guilty of a misdemeanour, and be punished accordingly. These provisions were severe, he admitted, but they were necessary. The Bill excluded from its operation domestic servants, and servants in husbandry; it also allowed stoppages of wages in certain cases. He hoped the bills would now be allowed to be read a second time; and when they went into Committee, he would gladly attend to any suggestions for their improvement. One suggestion had been thrown out by his noble friend opposite (Lord Auckland) which should be attended to. His noble friend had observed, that in this town, and in many other places, young men without families were employed, who received, as part of the consideration for their wages, board and lodging. Such cases might properly come within the exemptions, as he considered young men so circumstanced, were better provided for under their employers' roof than by living alone.

The Bishop of Gloucester

had considerable knowledge of the truck system, and he feared any provisions inserted in these Bills would have no effect. In the parish where he lived there were 5,000 persons who were all subject to the same rule, and compelled to take what they wanted from their masters' truck shop; and if any of the workmen refused it, the master discharged them, saying that he would not employ them any longer, but declining to state a reason. He had heard of many instances of that sort, and feared there was no remedy but changing their masters when they chose to deal in any other place than these shops. He had had several conversations with persons interested in this subject, and the answer he received was, "we will not employ them." The law, he believed, would be evaded. The truck-shop masters would only employ such men as bought the. articles of their consumption at a particular shop, and he knew no way in which an Act of Parliament could be made to reach them.

Lord Skelmersdale

supported the Bill. He believed that those who resided in manufacturing districts were unfortunately too well aware of the effects of the truck system, and he hoped the Session would not pass over without some measure being completed which would put it out of the power of the masters to exercise so much tyranny over their workmen. He had had a good deal of experience in the manufacturing districts, and he thought that the proposed law would reach the evil.

Lord Auckland

said, he was far from opposing the Bill, and he should be happy to give his noble friend every assistance in his power to make it as perfect as possible. He had already before him numberless memorials and petitions, and statements of facts, pointing out the evils of the practice of paying wages in goods instead of money, and exhibiting such proceedings as a means of fraud, which required, and would justify, the interference of the Legislature; but he had seen no one petition or memorial in favour of a continuance of the system. That was pretty good evidence of the state of public feeling on the subject. At the same time, he could not conceal from himself, that the question was one of great complexity, and he agreed with the rev. Pre-late, that it would be most difficult to frame a law to suit it. He was willing, however, to try the experiment; and he should rejoice if his noble friend could succeed in abating the evil. There was one difficulty against which he wished to guard the House, and that was, that though in some places, and in some trades, the truck system was a declared evil, there were others where it had hitherto worked well, and where it was rather a convenience than an injury. He mentioned it, not for the purpose of throwing any impediment in the way of the Bill, but to convince their Lordships that its clauses required close examination and much consideration before they were passed into a law. He had also to point out, that in some places children employed in manufactures came from distances, and were provided by the master with breakfast; and he should be glad to know if a case like this was to be exempted by his noble friend from the operation of his Bill. He had further to notice the claims whereby the Magistrates of the county were to have a concurrent jurisdiction with the Magistrates of the place where the manufactory stood, and he de- sired to understand how far the noble Lord meant to carry that; and if the Magistrates, for instance, of the county of Middlesex, were to have a jurisdiction over a manufactory in London?

Lord Wharncliffe

was happy to perceive the concurrence of the House in the principle and objects of this Bill. In the Committee he would attend to the suggestions of the noble Lord, and willingly attend to any recommendation which would effect an amendment in the details of the Bill.

The Earl of Carnarvon

said, it was not his intention to trouble their Lordships at any length, but he must observe, that to the best of his judgment, although they had not a full knowledge of the causes or nature of the grievances which were so greatly increasing, and which the Bill purposed to remove—though he was doubtful if it would have that effect—yet he was not prepared to oppose it. He had no doubt the increase of the practice which it was the object of the Bill to put an end to, had originated in the suppression of small Bank notes. That suppression had been ruinous to the agricultural interests, and to all species and descriptions of trades which had been carried on by the means of a local circulation, and the small capitalist had no other means by which he could continue his business than by some such substitute as truck, which was, in fact, only paying in goods because they had not money to pay with. Under these circumstances, before they passed another law of prohibition, they ought to have the fullest possible information on all matters bearing on this important subject, and unless this was obtained he should feel himself called upon to dissent from the Bill on its third reading. He was of opinion, that such experimental measures, without a full inquiry into the causes of the unprecedented depreciation of labour, would only tend to aggravate the evil.

Viscount Goderich

was not sure that this Bill would destroy a practice which had been so long established, but he thought his noble friend had stated sufficient grounds for proposing some measure of this description. The question had been brought particularly under his notice some time since, and the result of the judgment he had formed upon it was, that though the object was difficult to be obtained, yet the well-being of thousands of persons who had nothing but their labour to depend upon, required that the Bill before their Lordships should be passed. He must further state, in reference to what fell from the noble Lord who had last spoken, that the present was by no means a new measure, for, in point of fact, as early as the time of Edward 4th there was a law on the Statute-book, on this very subject, but which appeared to have fallen into desuetude, cither from the difficulty of obtaining' a conviction, or from the inefficiency of the punishment. Conceiving that the existing law was defective, and being convinced of the necessity of amending it, he should support the present measure.

Earl Gower

having presented various petitions to the notice of their Lordships, from parts of the country particularly interested in this Bill, must therefore express his satisfaction at the introduction of it. The practice which it was intended to put an end to, had prevailed for many years, and was a most oppressive one in its operation on the labouring classes. He knew the first of the Bills now under the consideration of their Lordships was in perfect unison with the feeling of that part of the country with which he was connected.

Lord Calthorpe

thought that the Bill ought to be referred to a Select Committee before it received the sanction of the House. One of their Lordships' Standing Orders declared, that every Bill, having for its object to alter the regulations of any trade or laws of apprenticeship, should be referred to a Select Committee. If the present Bill came within the scope of the Standing Order, he hoped it would be submitted to a Select Committee. He moved that the Standing Order be read.

A Standing Order to the effect stated, was read accordingly.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, that in his opinion the Bill was not included in the order, which referred to Bills of another character. It was impossible to consider it as a Bill for the regulation of a trade. He contended, that a Bill which had for its object to compel the payment of wages in money, could not be considered as coming under the denomination of a Bill to regulate a trade. The Bill, therefore, before their Lordships, could not come within the standing order of their Lordships which had been read.

Lord Calthorpe

should be extremely sorry to find that the opinion expressed by the noble Baron was that of their Lordships, because he thought the Bill came completely within the object of the standing order and ought to be referred to a Select Committee.

The Lord Chancellor

did not think that the Bill came within the standing order, which appeared to him to have been sanctioned by their Lordships at a period when trade was beginning to be carried on in a most injurious manner, from the formation of joint-stock companies and various speculations of that description. The Bill was not one for regulating the conduct of trade, but the payment of wages only. He was too well aware of the evils which arose from the truck system not to agree to an experiment, that had for its object, to remedy them. He despaired, indeed, that any measure that had yet been. suggested would accomplish that purpose completely, but he hoped the present Bill might do some good, and he should therefore gladly vote for the second reading.

Bill read a second time.