HL Deb 03 June 1844 vol 75 cc147-53
The Earl of Dalhousie

in moving the third reading of this Bill, stated that some of its clauses had reference to the regulation of the Customs, some were for the prevention of smuggling and for affording additional security to the Public Revenue, and one was for the removal of certain duties and the alteration and adaptation of others in order to bring them into conformity with the duties on articles of a similar class. If any noble Lord had any objections to the measure, he should be glad to meet them and give every explanation in his power.

The Duke of Richmond

said, that the removal of the duty on wool, as proposed by the Bill, would not be attended by benefit to the woollen manufactures of this country. Foreign governments, seeing that our object was to undersell their manufactures, would, as had been the case before, immediately levy a duty on the importation of English woollen goods for their own protection. The Returns clearly proved an increase in the value of the woollen manufactures exported from this country, and, therefore, the reduction proposed was not called for by any necessity. He believed that a great many of the short-wool growers of England would agree with him that this was an inexpedient measure, and that it ought not to pass into a law. He disliked it, because, in his humble opinion, it was another step towards free trade, which, if extended, would be the ruin of the country. If he thought be could have successfully opposed the Bill, and thrown it out, he would have certainly divided the House upon it, but knowing that many of those who agreed with him upon most questions which had a bearing upon agricultural protection, were disinclined to offer any opposition to this measure, he would not now do that which he had never yet done —he would not give a factious opposition to any Government, be that government who they might; but when he saw them going in a wrong direction he would still deem it his duty to rise in his place and state his opinions. There was another Clause to which he must object—that relating to vinegar. The reduction of duty on vinegar from eighteen to four guineas a tun was unfair to the persons engaged in that trade in this country, because, from the process and materials they used, they could not compete with their foreign rivals, and who, if they gave up business, would be able to realise but a very small portion of the capital invested. According to the last Returns, about 3,000,000 gallons of vinegar were made in England every year, and nearly the whole of it from malt; and it was calculated that consequently this Bill would make a reduction of 25,000l. a-year from the revenue derived from the malt tax. Now, he did think, that after a long course of pressure on the agricultural interest, for the benefit, it was alleged of manufactures — after their New Tariff, their New Corn Law, their Canada Corn Bill, their Bonding Bills, &c—after all this, he must say, that turn about would be only fair, and that they ought rather to take off than add to the pressure on agriculture. To these points of the Bill he entertained the strongest objection, and he only regretted that the opposition was so limited. He regretted the more, because he thought that if Parliament had thrown out the Tariff, they would never have heard of the Canada Corn Bill; and if they threw out the present measure they would, perhaps, not hear of some other Bill making a further progress of the same extent in the course of next Session. He had some time before put a question which bad not yet been answered, and he regretted that Government when they proposed this Bill, were not in a position to tell Parliament that the result of their negotiations with foreign countries gave reason to expect, that if we took off the duties on raw materials, foreigners would permit us to send them our manufactured linens and woollens. This, however, was not the case; and strongly disapproving of these successive steps in the direction of free-trade, he should say "Not content" to the present proposal.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, he could prove to the noble Duke that this reduction of duty on foreign wool would serve his own Southdown wool, and that the former reductions of duty had been productive of good instead of injury to the home wool growers. Since the last reduction there had been a gradual rise in the price of home-grown wool, and the years of the greatest importation of foreign wool had been also the years of the highest price for British wool. With regard to vinegar, he must say, that he did not share in the noble Duke's apprehensions on that head, as he thought that vinegar could be still made cheaper here than abroad. He was a great supporter of protection: but there was a disposition on the part of some persons to take their stand on points on which it was not fit that they should insist.

Bill read a third time and passed.

House adjourned.

The following Protest was entered against the Third Reading of the Factories Bill.


1. Because all reason and all experience have pronounced clearly and absolutely against interfering by laws with the right which individuals have to employ their capital and their labour according to their own views and their own interest, and so long as no immorality is committed, and no encroachment is made upon the rights of others, all persons are entitled to dispose of their property, and direct their industry as they think most conducive to their own benefit, or their own comfort.

2. Because of the two, labour ought to be the most scrupulously protected from all interference, inasmuch as it constitutes the sole possession and only power of the great bulk of the people; inasmuch as the labourer cannot flee, like the capitalist, from vexatious oppression, and inasmuch as any interference with his free exertion, operates directly upon the great mainspring of the whole social machine, producing consequences which can neither be foreseen nor counteracted, and affecting interests the most serious, extensive, and remote.

3. Because the folly of all such interference with capital and labour is as glaring as its injustice, there being no one truth in any branch of science more incontestible than this —that individuals can judge far better of their own interests, whether as regards their gains, or their health, or their comforts, from their nearer perception and perfect knowledge of all the circumstances upon which their interests depend, than the rulers, who can only see the same things from a distance, and in the general, and it being a truth equally beyond dispute that individuals will always pursue their own interests more unremittingly than the State, which has neither the means of providing for each man's benefit, nor the constant incentive or personal feelings to keep its care and attention ever awake.

4. Because the present means afford a proof how dangerous it is for the Legislature ever to take any step in a wrong direction, and depart from sound principles, under the influence of a temporary pressure, and how inevitable the consequence is, that the mischief will not stop short where it began, for no sooner did the law prohibit the employment of young persons above twelve hours a day, than attempts were made, and proved very successful, to restrict their employment two hours more; and no sooner did the law prohibit adult females from being suffered to work of their own free will in mines, than the present measure declared adult females of all ages incapable of judging for themselves how long they should work in factories, absolutely forbidding them from labouring above a certain number of hours, as if it were an offence in an able-bodied woman of thirty or forty to work as long as she pleased, and ordering her, under severe penalties, only to earn a certain sum by the day, in return for the labour of her own hands; to all which may be added the fact that many persons have supported the present Bill, and some have propounded a still further extension of the scheme, upon the declared ground that after the Legislature had once begun the system of interference, it was too late to question its propriety, and there was no possibility of stopping short where the former measure had left the question.

5. Because it is the grossest absurdity for the Sovereign to pretend that he knows better than his subjects how long they can work with safety to their health and comfort, to prescribe how much they shall gain by their labour, or generally to take upon himself the management of other people's concerns, an absurdity as great as the labourer would commit who should take upon himself the work of Government, and dictate to the law-giver in what manner his measures ought to be framed.

6 Because it is the grossest blindness to imagine that the happiness of children is better promoted by the necessarily general and careless superintendence of the State as the common parent of all, than by the special and near watchfulness of the individual parents over their progeny, whom Providence has wisely entrusted to their care, creating feelings and instincts expressly adapted to the purpose, and of far greater force and far more constant operation than any mechanism which rulers can substitute, although the inevitable consequence of providing such substitutes must be to weaken the parental instincts, upon which, after all that the law can do, the lawgiver must in the end be forced to depend.

7. Because it is the grossest hypocrisy to pretend that the interests of morality can be promoted by interfering with the labour of the people, inasmuch as idleness is the root of all evil, inasmuch as grown-up women, if prevented from working when and how they please, arc far more likely to employ their time viciously, and in courses which no law can restrain; and inasmuch as no attempts are ever made, or even thought of, to promote morality among the upper classes by any compulsory provisions whatever.

8. Because it is the grossest inconsistency to single out one branch of industry for the subject of experiment — how much tyranny over the capitalist and the labourer may be safely exercised; and to affect an especial care for the health, and comfort, and morals of one class alone among all the numerous bodies of workmen, for whom the wants of the community find employment, it being quite notorious that the sufferings are equally lamentable, which many other classes have unavoidably to endure from toil and want, the caprice of employers, and the vicissitudes of the seasons; the hardships of their lot in life, and the effects of errors in legislation; the order of nature, and the faults of rulers.

9. Because as instances of this glaring inconsistency may be cited, the facts stated in the Reports of the Poor Law Commissioners to the Commons House of Parliament touching the condition in different districts of husbandry. Labourers beginning to work at a very tender age, exposed to extreme hardships in their daily toil, and running no small risk of having their morals impaired as well as their education neglected. Women and children do the work of which they are capable, and they begin their employment as early as five or six, and even, in some instances, four years of age. They have in some places to walk seven miles and more to their work, return home unpaid when the weather is unfavourable, and when paid, receive extremely small sums. They go to work at seven in the morning, and continue till dark; in summer till nine o'clock. Unless they can finish a certain task of work they get no wages at all. There is no classification of ages or of characters, and the most profligate persons associate with those of tender years, and comparatively innocent habits. Some of the Reports disclose a frightful amount of immorality as the result of this admixture; and the returns of illegitimate pauper children for the whole kingdom show that there is a far greater proportion of them in agricultural than in manufacturing districts, in the proportion of to one upon an average. Now, all these sufferings, though exceedingly to be lamented, have never been deemed fit subjects of legislative interference, nor have the severe sufferings, both in health and morals, of many manufacturing districts, ever been so regarded, all interference being confined to the single branch of cotton spinning, for this reason, among others, that were the compulsory enactments of the law extended over all the branches of industry, this country would cease to be the habitation either of wealthy capitalists, or thriving labourers, but would be left to the advocates of the new system of meddling, and the inmates of the workhouse under their protection.

10. Because the most glaring evils in the condition of the poor, both parents and children, are daily under the eyes of the Legislature, and are so far from being checked, that they are encouraged by its Members for their own convenience, because these evils could only be eradicated by imposing restraints upon the natural liberty of the people, and interfering with the voluntary contracts made for their employment. The practice of women suckling the children of others devotes hundreds of thousands of children to diseases arising from insufficient nutriment, procuring the death of many, and tending little to improve the national character. This practice has been blamed by all moralists, lamented by all persons of a sentimental cast, and objected to by political reasoners, but no attempt has ever been made to restrain it; lawgivers justly deem it to lie beyond their proper province; and, refusing to interfere with the labour of females capable of judging for themselves, although the interests, and even the lives of helpless infants, might seem to claim protection.

11. Because, however deplorable may be the devotion of young children to labour instead of instruction, and however desirable may be the liberation of females from all but domestic work—one of the surest proofs of advanced civilization, this can only be the slow and spontaneous growth of that progressive improvement in the condition, and with the condition, in the habits of the people; and it is manifest that when the law giver interposes with restraint upon capital and labour, he is certain to retard that progress, to worsen the condition of the people, to prevent their habits from mending, and thus to produce or exuberate the very evils which he affects most to dread.

12. Because the grossest delusions have been, and in many instances too successfully, practised upon the working classes, persuading them that measures like the present are for their benefit, and that the laws are more their friends than their employers, an absurd notion has thus been propagated, that by Act of Parliament men may receive wages without doing work; and they have been taught to suppose that the question is not whether they shall be permitted to work as much us they please, and earn as much as they can (which is the real matter in dispute), but whether they shall for the same wages work a longer or a shorter time; and an equally wild fancy has been made to prevail, that the gain of the master is made at the workmen's expense, whereas every reflecting person must perceive that, in exact proportion to the increase of capital employed in any trade is the amount of remuneration which can be afforded to the labour whereby that trade is driven.

13. Because the wants of society present a fair and an ample field in which the provident humanity of the Legislature, as well as of eminent individuals, may be exerted for the improvement of the people's condition upon rational principles, and without violating any right of the subject, or any rule of sound policy; by amending the Criminal Law and the police system, so as to protect the young from the contamination of old offenders, by rendering the punishment of all offenders speedy and certain, instead of leaving it to mere hazard; by unfettering industry from the shackles under which the relics of a barbarous age still leave it to pine; and above all, by bestowing upon the poor the inestimable blessings of a sound education, providing the means of infant and adult training, and leaving the people to avail themselves voluntarily of the advantages thus wisely brought within their reach.

(Signed) BROUHAM.