HL Deb 06 July 1840 vol 55 cc433-8
The Marquess of Normanby

rose to move the second reading of the Chimney Sweepers Bill, which came before their Lordships very powerfully supported. It was not a favourite measure merely with some one particular class, but the general feeling of the mass of the people was in favour of the measure. So strong was the feeling, that he was convinced, if their Lordships passed this bill, they would give more public satisfaction than by almost any other measure. The last bill that passed on this subject was nearly inoperative, in consequence of the ease with which it was evaded. In favour of this bill all parties were united; and its provisions were calculated to meet the objections urged against former propositions. Every one of the insurance companies was in favour of this bill; and amongst them, the Hand-in-Hand office subscribed 100l. towards carrying the object of the bill into effect. From all parts of the country petitions were poured in in favour of the measure; and, certainly, it was no small recommendation that it had passed the other House of Parliament without a dissentient voice. To prove the sufferings that climbing boys were compelled to endure, the noble Marquess read extracts from evidence given before a committee of the House of Commons, appointed to inquire into this subject; and called their Lordships particular attention to the sentiments delivered by Lord Meadowbank, on a trial which recently took place in Edinburgh, when that learned personage denounced the practice of' employing climbing boys as disgraceful to the country, and revolting to humanity, and emphatically called upon all who heard him to join in their efforts to put down such an atrocious system. He sincerely hoped, that their Lordships would not refuse their sanction to a measure in favour of which so general, he might say, so universal a feeling, prevailed. One of the chief provisions of the bill prohibited the employment of any person under the age of twenty-one years in the climbing of chimneys. To this it was observed, that persons of such an age could not enter chimneys unless they were peculiarly constructed. The answer, however, to that, was, and it was the answer of experienced persons, that there were very few chimneys into which it would not be possible for individuals of small dimensions, though of mature age, to enter; and when the chimney did not admit of that, recourse must be had to the machine. His noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Haddington) had, on a former evening, presented a petition from certain master chimneysweepers, praying to be heard by counsel against the bill. Now, if the prayer were acceded to, they would be required to hear counsel on the other side, and there would be no chance of carrying the bill. He, therefore, must object to such a course.

The Earl of Haddington

was not an advocate for the employment of boys in this species of vocation. He admitted all the evils that grew out of, and were connected with it; and he wished as sincerely and as warmly as his noble Friend opposite to put an end to the system, if, at the same time, he were well assured that security would accompany the abolition of the practice. In his opinion, their Lordships should inquire, before they proceeded further with this bill, whether they might depend under the new system upon the same degree of security which they enjoyed under the old. The petition he had presented from the master chimneysweepers of London and Westminster against this bill, affirmed that there were very many chimnies that could not possibly be swept by machinery, and they prayed that this matter might be inquired into. He believed the master chimneysweepers were mistaken; but still it behoved their Lordships to inquire before they proceeded further. His noble Friend opposite said, that, if inquiry were allowed, the measure would probably be lost for this session. That would lead to great inconvenience, but the inconvenience would be still greater if they were to endanger the security of property, merely in order to pass the bill during the present session. Although, he apprehended that the bill must now be read a second time, he should propose that after the second reading it should be referred to a select committee.

The Bishop of Exeter

must tender to the noble Marquess his most humble and hearty thanks for having stated, so ably the evils which attended the present system, and the necessity of putting an end to it. It seemed that there was not much difference of opinion, if any, on the subject of this bill, and he thought, therefore, that if a committee were agreed to, it need not take up much time in inquiry. He presumed that their Lordships would go into committee with their minds made up upon the misery engendered by the present system and the wickedness which it occasioned, which was greater than the amount of the misery. If these two points were taken to be admitted, the questions into which a committee of their Lordships would inquire would resolve themselves into this—whether the system of sweeping by machinery might be adopted with safety to life and property? He wished, however, that the committee would direct its attention to one point, which was of importance. In those flues which could not be swept by machinery, he apprehended it would be found that there was the greatest difficulty and danger when boys were employed. Now, he trusted that their Lordships would think that children should not be permitted to sweep those flues, unless it could be plainly shown that they might be easily and safely swept by boys.

Earl De Grey

wished to state in a few words to their Lordships the reasons which induced him to oppose any inquiry. All the insurance-offices in London but one would not have adopted machinery, unless it had been satisfactorily proved that machinery could safely be applied? He had had a good deal of experience in the alteration of old, and the erection of new chimnies, and he was sure that there were not any chimnies which might not be so altered as to admit of being swept by machinery. He thought there was no necessity for further inquiry, and he gave his cordial and hearty support to the bill before the House.

Lord Segrave

observed, that in many old houses it would be almost impossible to alter chimnies in such a manner as to render it practicable to dispense with the assistance of boys, and if this bill passed into a law, property in the country would be placed in a state of great danger.

The Bishop of London

confessed that he would rather place old houses in jeopardy than the life of a fellow-creature. His reason for opposing a select committee was, that the misery and wickedness occasioned by the present system having been admitted, unless it could be proved that it would be impossible to make such alteration in chimnies that they could be swept by machinery, their Lordships would not be justified in prolonging a system which had already destroyed much human life, and so long as it continued would probably be the means of destroying much more.

The Earl of Wicklow

believed that if this bill passed it would endanger a vast number of edifices in this country. He knew very well that those who lived in cities and towns where chimnies were built in the modern style Would be secure under the operation of this bill, but the feeling in the country among the possessors of old habitations was decidedly against it. He was quite at a loss to know on what grounds an inquiry could be resisted. Not only had their Lordships no information at present, but when a similar bill came up from the other House six years ago a committee of inquiry was appointed, and the result of the inquiry was the conviction of the committee that the bill could not then pass. With regard to the severity and hardship with which these poor children were treated, that surely might be made the subject of regulation.

The Duke of Beaufort

felt the difficulty of taking a course which was apparently opposed to the dictates of humanity, but at the same time he could not but think that if this bill were now to pass into a law, it would be very injurious to property in the country. He held in his hand a petition signed by 3,000 inhabitants of Bristol, against the bill, and under these circumstances he should support the proposition of the noble Earl for a reference to a select committee.

The Duke of Sutherland

said, that having several petitions to present on the subject, and as it was one on which he entertained a strong feeling, he would take the liberty of stating in a very few words the reasons why he thought this bill ought to pass, and why there was no necessity for a reference to a committee. He had the honour of being chairman of the select committee to which was referred the bill to which the noble Earl had adverted, and having heard all the evidence and the strongest arguments which the master chimney-sweepers could employ, they were so satisfied on the subject, that the only reason why the committee wished some delay should take place before legislation was, that public attention might be called to the subject. Having heard that many houses, of which he was the owner, could not be swept by machinery, he had had them all altered, and without much difficulty, so as to admit the machinery. The present was a horrible practice, and ought not to be tolerated in a Christian community.

The Marquess of Londonderry

was of opinion, that if their Lordships altered this bill so as to exempt these climbing boys from work, they must bring in another bill to arrest the employment of children in all the other public works of the country. The measure was of great importance, and ought not to be adopted without inquiry.

The Duke of Richmond

rose for the purpose of making a suggestion that, instead of reading this bill a second time, it should be sent back to the committee appointed under the standing orders, and that that committee report on it.

Bill read a second time.

The Earl of Haddington moved that it be referred to a select committee.

The Marquess of Normanby

was unwilling to oppose this motion, but the inquiry which their Lordships had formerly instituted into this subject had been so searching and so general, that he thought further inquiry unnecessary.

Their Lordships divided: Contents 91; Not-contents 77; Majority 14.

Select committee nominated.