HL Deb 24 June 1842 vol 64 cc544-7
The Earl of Belhaven

wished to put a question to the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) relative to the Church of Scotland. The situation in which that Church was placed, the unfortunate divisions which had arisen principally amongst the clergy, and the excitement which prevailed, he thought every well-wisher to that Church must be desirous to see allayed. His own impression was strongly this—if the Government see that all the lights are extinguished, that the boys are all out of the workings, and that the trap-doors are properly secured. 22. This observation is utterly incorrect. Nothing is omitted on account of the expense that is likely to guard against accidents, or secure the safety or comfort of the workpeople in the Northumberland and Durham collieries. 23. The greatest care is used in examining the ropes: and the engine-men are always approved of and appointed by the chief engineer. 24. In the above districts the children are well fed and well clad. 25 and 26. These are not correct to the extent stated. It is true that the pitmen are not a corpulent race, but few men possess such firmness of muscle, which is acquired in consequence of the regularity of their labour in a warm and uniform atmosphere. No more active and athletic set of young men is to be found than amongst the putters of these collieries, and the long pedestrian journies performed by the pitmen during their sticks afford sufficient proof that there is no physical organic defect in their limbs. Their bodily health and physical constitution may best be judged of from the reports of the surgeons as to the comparative ease with which they recover from wounds and other injuries.—(See the annexed report of Mr. Hard-castle.) 27. This statement is incorrect as to the effect of the employment and changes of temperature upon the age of pitmen.—(Vide Mr. Leifchild's Report, page 525, paragraphs 77 and 79.) To the petition was annexed a report from Mr. Hard-castle, a member of the College of Surgeons in London, who stated, that employment in mines was not detrimental to health. He had obtained a return of the ages of 720 persons employed in certain collieries, and they were—

Above 80 4 percent.
70 20 3
60 55
50 107 15
21 534 74
720 100
would declare its intention to interfere for the purpose of endeavouring to effect a settlement of this question, it would be ' the best, if not the only means to put and end to that state of irritation and excitement which at present existed. The question which he now begged to put to the noble Duke was, whether it was the intention of her Majesty's Government to take this question into its early and serious consideration, with a view of endeavouring to bring it to a satisfactory settlement.

The Duke of Wellington

I must confine myself to giving a simple answer to the question of the noble Lord. The Government has had the subject under its consideration, and it has endeavoured to discover the means of effecting a settlement of this important and distressing question. We have abandoned that intention in consequence of finding that parties are not prepared to receive with satisfaction the measure which the Government had under its consideration. We are aware of the difficulties of the case. We see them strongly; and I must say that we have the same respect for the Church of

[If the age at which children were admitted into mines was made higher, a very great evil would be occasioned. The coalowners of Yorkshire had issued a document on this subject, to portions of which he would beg their Lordships' attention.]" "With respect to the age at which males should be admitted into mines, the members of this association have unanimously agreed to fix it at eight years, and they appeal to the testimony of numerous witnesses in the commissioners' report to prove that colliers seldom attain the requisite proficiency in their trade unless they enter the pits when young. In the thin coal mines it is more especially requisite that boys, varying in age from eight to fourteen, should be employed; as the underground roads could not be made of sufficient height for taller persons without incurring an outlay so great as to render the working of such mines unprofitable. At the present moment, a majority of the coal mines of this district are working not more than three or four days in each week, and the population are consequently in a state of great poverty and distress. What, then, would be the condition of a miner's family, if deprived by the Legislature of the weekly wages produced by the industry of the boys, in addition to those earned by the females? The coal owners fully admit the vast importance of moral and intellectual training as a means of improving the social condition of the population, and they would be rejoiced to see it more general; but they cannot conceive anything more injurious to the rising generation than the period of youth spent in utter idleness. The whole of a collier's family under thirteen years old will, if turned out of the pits, be entirely dependent on the scanty earnings of the parent for food, clothing, and instruction. Those earnings alone are barely sufficient to procure even food for their children, without mentioning wearing apparel and education. What then, will be the probable condition of the children under thirteen years of age after the passing of Lord Ashley's Bill in its present form? Prevented by the Legislature from working in the mines, and unable to pay for daily instruction, or to avail themselves of Sunday-school education from the want of decent clothing, and equally unable, in the present superabundant supply of labourers, to procure employment in other branches of trade, they would Scotland which is professed by the noble Lord himself, and the same feeling of the benefit which it has conferred on the people of that country, and of its being eminently calculated to continue that benefit, and to ensure their happinesss. But the question is a very simple one. The Government has given, is giving, and will continue to give, its earnest attention to the subject with a view to discover the means of effecting a settlement at the earliest period possible.
The Duke of Richmond

said, that as he was connected with that part of Scotland in which these clergymen had been suspended, he must say he thought it was very unjust that they should be suspended for merely obeying the law of the land. He must also speak to the great respectability of those individuals. As he understood that the Assembly intended to present a petition, a sort of declaration of rights, to the Queen, he wished to ask the noble Duke whether, after it was presented, he would have any objection to lay it on the Table of the House. He did not wish to have an answer at present. He

grow up in a state of physical and moral destitution, without any regular occupation, without that sufficiency of food and clothing which their own earnings formerly provided for them, without religious culture, without secular knowledge, and without those habits of steady industry so desirable in every rank, and so essentially necessary to the well-being of the working class. The boy must in this, as in every other case, be educated for the man; and surely legislative prevention of learning a trade is not desirable, either in a moral or an economical point of view. Some of the best and most careful engine-men in this district are more than fifty years of age; and the coal-owners think, that to discharge a skilful and faithful servant from the work for which, from long habit and experience, he is peculiarly fitted, simply because he is more than fifty years old, would be an act of imprudence and injustice, which nothing but a compulsory law would ever cause them to commit. The interference of Parliament in this case, therefore, is, they conceive, not only unnecessary, but unjust. If, however, legislation is inevitable, it would be more reasonable to restrict the age at which engine-men and banksmen may begin to work to fourteen years, to allow females of a similar age to assist the banksman, and leave unrestricted and unlimited the age at which they shall cease. The coal-owners cannot omit this opportunity of referring to the report and conclusions of the commissioners for proof that there is little in the trade of mining injurious to the health; and much respectable evidence may also be quoted to show that the moral condition of the miners is superior to that of the manufacturing operatives, and not at all inferior to that of the agricultural labourers. The mineral proprietors and workmen have undeservedly incurred great public odium from the onesided and ex parte statements, and extracts from the reports, issued by the press—showing only the dark side of the picture; and they entreat Members of Parliament not to legislate hastily on this subject, but to allow time for the whole of the evidence to be digested, and for the excitement, at present prevailing in the public mind, to be allayed by counter statements of the parties thus sought to be maligned and injured."

would say nothing of the General Assembly except that its conduct appeared to be most extraordinary, and he could not understand how it could allow itself to make use of such strong language as it had done, and to act in such a manner against men whose only fault was differing with it in opinion.

Lord Brougham

said, that he thought it would be unbecoming on the part of their Lordships to enter upon this discussion at present, when the appeal in this matter from the Court of Session would soon come before the House in its judicial capacity.

Subject dropped.