The Archbishop of Canterbury
presented a Petition from the inhabitants of Rochester and its vicinity, to support the measure which was on its way to that House, for the proper regulation and limitation of the hours of labour for children in the woollen, cotton, silk, and other manufactories. The petitioners stated, that it was usual to work children who were employed in such places from thirteen to sixteen hours out of the four-and-twenty, without allowing them more than one hour for their meals, and, in many instances, even less than that. The petitioners further pointed out the painful effects which this extended period of labour produced in the health and morals of the children, and they concluded their petition by stating, as their opinion, that ten hours a day was the utmost extent to which children should be employed in any manufactory. He could take upon himself to say, that the petition was numerously and most respectably signed, and he trusted that their Lordships would not refuse their attention to the subject, nor fail to use their power for the protection of children against a system of cruelty and oppression. He could not take upon himself to answer for the facts stated in the petition, but he had every reason to suppose that they were correctly set forth; and, on that supposition, he had no hesitation in saying, that this was a system of cruelty and oppression which ought to be put an end to. It ought to be recollected, that, with children up to the age of about fourteen or fifteen, the time was that of innocent pleasure and enjoyment, whereas, under this system, they were confined for a most unreasonable number of hours each day at their labours, without time for relaxation, or even for proper refreshment—and that, too, with a very few holidays in the year. The effect of this was pernicious to their health, and it ought also to be recollected, that it was attended with the most serious injury to their morals; it was a disgrace to a Christian and civilized community to allow such a system to continue merely for putting money in the pockets of the master manufacturers. He was happy to know that a measure had been introduced into the other House for the regulation of the labour of those children 986 by a Gentleman well acquainted with the subject, and whenever that Bill came up to their Lordships, if it answered his present expectation it should have his support.
§ Petition laid on the Table.