HL Deb 03 June 1844 vol 75 cc135-45
Lord Wharncliffe

moved the third reading of the Bill.

The Earl of Radnor

expressed his disapprobation of all meddling interference with the labour of the people. He denied the labour of females in factories was so severe as it had been represented, or as the labour of women in other stations of life. It was argued, that the hours of labour ought to be abridged, in order that time might be afforded for the education of children, and other domestic purposes. He also wished for the education of children, but he would provide for it by legislating in a different way: he would remove all restrictive duties from articles of consumption of every description, by which less labour would be necessary for subsistence, and the necessary leisure would thus be afforded for instruction.

The Duke of Sutherland

rose merely to express his regret that the shorter period of labour had not been sanctioned by the other House of Parliament, than that which the Bill in its present shape proposed. He was of opinion, that if the hours of labour had been limited to ten instead of twelve, the measure would have given greater satisfaction. He should be very glad, if he thought it could be done with safety, to trust to the progress of civilization to shorten the hours of labour for women; but he feared that that was an argument which could not be much relied upon.

Lord Brougham

rose to enter his protest against the passing of the Bill. He entirely agreed with what had fallen from his noble Friend (the Earl of Radnor) upon the subject of the Bill; but he wished to guard himself against the supposition that he was not possessed as strongly as any man could be possessed, either in that House or out of that House, either out of doors or in doors, with a feeling of deep sorrow that either young children should be employed by their parents in work beyond their years, or that they should be employed in working at all when it might be more advantageous for their moral health and their physical strength that they should be engaged in education—still more strongly perhaps did he feel upon the part of women; but unfortunately he laboured under the impossibility of seeing how that desirable object could be accomplished except by the natural spontaneous progress of society, which, as it proceeded, would inevitably prevent females from engaging in labour not suited to their sex, and might allow children to be taught before they laboured. He believed that interference with capital and with labour, on the contrary, stayed the progress of society, deterred the advance of civilization, and did the very thing which it desired not to do—prevented the arrival of the time when, by the dispensation of Providence, the advance of society would rescue women from hard work and children from any work at all. For this reason he was against all such legislative interference with the employment of capital and with human industry. As long as men were allowed to use their capital as they pleased, to exercise their labour in the way best suited to their strength, best calculated to secure their health, in the manner most subservient to their comfort, and generally speaking, most in accordance with their own interests, two great advantages were secured, and two great securities against mischief were obtained. The matter was left in the hands of those who must necessarily be best acquainted with all the particular circumstances which affected the question, and who best knew upon what labour and capital must depend, whilst the state could only see these things at a distance, obscurely and confusedly, and had therefore not the means, even if it had the desire, to promote the interests of each individual of the community entrusted to its care. He had, it was true, much against the wishes, indeed against the remonstrances, of his dear and venerated Friend Sir Samuel Romilly, supported the Bill of the late Sir R. Peel, limiting the age of persons working in factories; he never but once regretted having supported that Bill, and that once was all his life; many years had not elapsed from limiting the age till it was proposed to limit the time — when it was proposed to limit the hours of labour to twelve; no sooner was that conceded than up get others and ask for ten hours; no sooner did they exclude females from working in mines than they were told that it was not sufficient, and that they must be excluded from factories also: so that a woman of thirty or forty years was to be treated as if she had committed a misdemeanor, and was to be protected against herself, because, forsooth, she was unable to judge how long she ought to work, or whether she ought to work at all or not. They said to the manufacturer, too, that he shouldn't work above twelve hours; they said, "We are all-wise, we are all-powerful, we'll take the matter out of your hands, we know all about it, and though you say it is the last hour that makes your profit, we say it is no such thing—we know better than you." That was the lamentable consequence of necessarily ignorant legislation; and ignorant and foolish men alone dabbled in other people's employment. It was their Lordships' trade to make laws; it was the manufacturers' to work mills, and their Lordships had no more right to interfere with them than they (the manufacturers) had to interfere with the task of legislation, or to say to their Lordships, "You know nothing of law making and we'll tell you all about it, because we understand it better than you; you say you know more about carding and wool-combing, because you are the more speculative class of the two; we say that we know more about law making because we are the more practical class of the two." It had been said that the labouring operatives were clamorous for this Bill — they might be if they were told that they were to get 10s. for ten hours' work, and 10s. for twelve hours' work; but that was not the fair statement of the question; if they were told in a straightforward manner that they would get 10s. for twelve hours' work, and 8s. for ten hours' work, he would be bound that no more would be heard of their cry for reducing the hours of labour. The effect of this Bill was to compel twelve hours' work and no more—others wanted to have ten hours and no more—he wanted to let the people work just as long as they pleased. Why call for a Ten Hours' Bill on their behalf? If we leave the question open, every man had a Ten Hours' Bill already; he might work ten hours if he pleased, and no power on earth could make him work more unless he liked—no man need work longer than he pleased. He (Lord Brougham) stated these opinions without the slightest chance of their at present succeeding. All he feared was, that this Bill might not be the last; and his only hope was, in making his protest against the Bill, that they would not sanction any further and new departure from sound principle. One word as to the state of the foreign market. America, situated in the immediate neighbourhood of the raw produce—America, with a daily and hourly increasing population, without the possibility, so rapid was its progress, of our being able to tell how far it would go—America, with all these advantages, was beginning, and had made already considerable progress in manufactures (as the case of the flourishing town of Lowell clearly evinced) —America with all these natural advantages and with no political drawbacks, with no such sentimental laws, with no such mischiefs in political economy to grapple with, with no such legislative evils to contend against — America was one, but not the only rival, which had of late years been called into existence. With Flanders, Switzerland, Holland, Germany, and France also, all free from a Ten Hours' Bill, free from the meddlings of the economist and the sentimentalist, our manufacturers would have to run the race of competition —with them our manufacturer and our labourer would have to contend, and he hoped they would have a good deliverance from the contest; but if he did expect that they would be well delivered from it, it was by hoping that they would have a good deliverance from bills like this; for sure he was that they could not expect a deliverance from the contest, speedy and sure, unless they were delivered from all such trammels upon industry and capital as this Bill imposed. It was the most cruel of all injustice, the grossest of all delusions, the most scandalous of all deceptions, in the case of those who knew better themselves, and yet propagated the belief, that there was a difference between the interest of the manufacturer and of the workmen, workwomen, and children in his employ. Good God; if ever two things were more strictly, more necessarily connected, nay more absolutely identical than any other two things, it was the eternal interest of one of those classes and the equally lasting interest of the other, and in exact proportion as the interest of the manufacturer was promoted, in exact proportion as his capital was fostered by the care of legislation—by which he meant that most valuable and precious care of leaving him alone—in exact proportion as such fostering care of non-intervention augmented the store and increased the capital of the manufacturer, in precisely the same proportion, by the same steps, in the same measure, to the same degree, and with the same swiftness of progress, must be increased the profit and the comfort of the women, of the children, and of the workmen; because, whatever increased his capital, and enabled the manufacturer to flourish, must of absolute necessity increase the only fund out of which the wages of labour could be maintained, and the only employment of all capital was of necessity the maintaining of labour; and, upon the other hand; whatever impeded the progress of the capitalist towards wealth —whatever interfered with the laying out of his capital and the employment of his skill, whatever touched the great mainspring of the social machine—labour, of necessity lowered the rate of that capital's increase, retarded the progress of the capitalist, by so doing diminished the labourer's fund, and by that diminution of the labourer's fund diminished at the same time both the comforts and the moral happiness of that most important class. For these reasons, if this Bill passed, he should feel it to be his duty to place a protest upon the journals of the House.

The Marquess of Normanby

differed so entirely from his noble and learned Friend who had just spoken, as well as from his noble Friend who had commenced the present discussion, that his support was founded on the hope that it would not be the last; for he did not believe that it at all went the length which alone could render interference unjustifiable. It was absolutely essential that some such Bill should receive the sanction of the Legislature, and he could not believe that any such evil consequences as they had shadowed out would follow. He should confine himself, in the few observations which he thought it necessary to make, to the actual effect of the Bill at present before the House. If he could agree with his noble and learned Friend, that they might, with perfect safety and justice to the labourers, leave the matter in the hands of the masters, he confessed that would afford a groundwork for the argument of his noble Friend, who contended that it was unwise and impolitic to interfere. But that he thought could not with perfect safety be done; otherwise, why had not the masters already conceded to what he believed to be almost the unanimous wish of the working classes themselves—the proposal for a Ten Hours' Bill? But what was it that his noble Friend complained of? What was the limitation that this Bill authorized? The labour of women was to be limited to twelve hours— that was to say, that with one and a half hour for meals, they would be thirteen and a half hours in the factory; and if one and a half hour further were allowed for going to and returning from the mill, but nine hours would be left out of the twenty-four for the performance of all domestic duties, for recreation, rest, and improvement. The whole existence of those persons engaged in factories—in a moral point of view, as well as with reference to physical repose— depended upon the interval between the work of one day and that of another. That fact was never to be lost sight of, and the question which their Lordships were bound to ask themselves was this,—did they conscientiously believe that that quantity of repose was by any means sufficient to secure the relaxation and rest which under the circumstances it was the duty of Parliament to provide for that class of Her Majesty's subjects? It had been by some noble Lords supposed that the House was legislating in utter ignorance of the subject to which the present measure referred. So far from conceiving them to be in ignorance on such a subject, he felt assured that they had read the Reports of the Factory Inspectors; and he thought he might venture to say that those who had read those Reports could not fail to feel satisfied that the opinions of the Commissioners constantly tended to a further limitation of the hours of labour. The present was a subject upon which it was not necessary that he should trouble the House with details, for he doubted not that many noble Lords who then heard him had made themselves masters of the statements and observations contained in the Inspectors' Reports. The noble Lord had told the House that the progress of civilization would provide a cure. The noble Earl must surely speak in ignorance of the fact, for no one fact had been more clearly established than that the number of women working in factories had been doubled and quadrupled within the last few years. Out of 6,000 hands added to the factories, 5,000 were women. So much then for the effect of civilization as far as curing the evil was concerned. He remembered how often they had been told that they were legislating in ignorance—that they had not studied the subject. He hoped their Lordships would allow him to say, that he, at all events, had endeavoured to make himself acquainted with the condition of the working classes from the moment that he undertook the duties of that office which was more immediately connected with the domestic government of the country. But he should not now occupy their attention with the details of his own experience, he should rather direct their consideration to the opinions of Mr. Baker, one of the Inspectors of Factories, on the subject of the limitation of female labour. It was that Gentleman's opinion, that if people must work long hours, men, not women should be employed—women should not be kept at work when men did nothing. With women the question of labour was not voluntary. "God help them I" he said, "they dare not refuse to work." This was not the statement of a visionary sentimentalist, but of an able man, thoroughly conversant with the facts. The House should recollect that they were now dealing with a population which the manufacturing system of the country had created in particular districts. That population, in the present state of the country, were not allowed any choice. He remembered having more than once heard it said that the factory women were in no worse a condition than housemaids. He could not suppose that any noble Lord meant seriously to urge any such statement as an argument against the Bill; could factory women change their employers when they thought proper as housemaids could? The laws of the country and the manufacturing system tied those poor people to one part of the country and to one species of occupation, and they were therefore of necessity wholly in the power of one sort of employer. When it was said that there was really no case for legislative interference, he asked their Lordships to look at the real state of the question. He believed, for the first time in the history of the world, human labour now formed a necessary portion of the work of a machine: human labour assisted the steam-engine, which had no limit to its power and no duration to its efforts. Agricultural labour must be limited in duration by the light of the sun; but, owing to the invention of gas, the steam-engine went on without ceasing; and he believed it was to the invention of gas that the system of extra hours owed its existence. The late Sir Robert Peel, who had made his fortune in the trade, left on record this:— "If the system of working women and children in factories was allowed to continue, the manufacturing interest, instead of being a blessing, would prove to be the bitterest curse to the country." The noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord talked as if the condition of the factory population was all that could be desired. In the course of conversation in Committee, he (Lord Normanby) stated certain facts on authority which could not be denied. The noble Earl (Lord Radnor) talked of bringing a blue book, relating to the agricultural districts, to contrast with these facts. But he (Lord Normanby) admitted the existence of evils in the agricultural districts. He admitted there was much destitution, and great crowding in some parts of those districts. But when the noble Lord talked of comparing the condition and mortality of the population of the agricultural districts with the population of crowded cities, he would say that for one instance of destitution and demo-moralisation in the agricultural districts, one hundred instances might be produced from the manufacturing localities. In the north riding of Yorkshire compared with Rutland, the number of men above 50 years of age was as 17 to 10 in favour of the agricultural district. The deaths of children under one year was as 17 to 10 against the county of Lancashire compared with Rutland. And when he referred to the county of Lancashire, it must be recollected that he took a favourable view of the question, for a great part of Lancashire was agricultural. It was next said, the people were better informed in the manufacturing districts than they were in the agricultural districts. He would prove this to be a fallacy by referring to the Report of the Register General of Marriages, who stated that the marks of women married were, in the county of Lancashire, of the proportion of 67 in every 100. Now in Yorkshire, Dorsetshire, and Rutlandshire, the average was only 38 in 100. So, therefore, it was clear that ignorance among females in the manufacturing districts was 5 to 3. The difference between the West Riding and the North Riding of Yorkshire was also very striking. In the West Riding, where extra employment was said to be given to the operative, the marks were 67 in every 100. In the North Riding, where agriculture was predominant, the proportion was 38 in every 100. So the difference was 5 to 3 against the manufacturing districts. They had, however, been told that it would be as well to leave the question alone; that these matters were better settled between the employer and the employed than by the Legislature. He was very far from saying that all the complaints made against the masters were well founded; and he was of opinion that the worst friend of the labouring classes was that man who endeavoured to pursuade them that all the evils under which they laboured could be cured by legislative interference. But when he was told it was the only just and proper course to leave these matters to be arranged by the employers and the employed, and that if the masters were now allowed to work 16 hours a day they would have such a fund in hand as would enable them to work only 8 hours at some future time, he begged to ask whether this was very likely to occur, or was there any reason to believe that the masters would voluntarily reduce the hours of labour. He did not think it was always the best policy to interfere between the employers and the employed, because it sometimes bred ill-feeling; but there were circumstances which sometimes justified this interference. His noble Friend (Lord Radnor) belonged to an Association which adopted a course which he (Lord Normanby) did not think the best for carrying out these principles but to whom it would be impossible to deny the possession of great wealth, industry, and perseverance. This Association had been most actively engaged in a recent election, and, in order to accomplish their views, they raised a cry which was most likely to excite and engage the sympathy and support of the working man. But he had heard from undoubted authority that amongst the lower orders there was not the slightest appearance of sympathy with or interest taken in the cry thus raised. This was significant of the want of cordiality between the employer and employed, and it was one reason why the Legislature should not interfere too rashly. When, however, it was said that we were now beginning, in 1844, for the first time, to interfere with labour, he would say that the real interference was commenced in 1816, by the Committee before which the late Sir Robert Peel was examined: in giving his vote for the third reading of this Bill, he would regret if it did not prove to the working classes that great benefit would be conferred on them, and not the least of those benefits that their labour would be confined to 12 hours. So strong, indeed, was his own conviction of the propriety of this limitation, that if he had stood alone, he would equally have felt it his duty to give an opinion as strong as he had now done.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, it had been attributed to him that he had said on a former occasion, he had reason to believe the principle of interference would soon be carried still further, and that women would be prevented from working in factories at all; he begged to declare, he said nothing of the kind. What he did say, was this—that at the beginning of the manufacturing system, it would perhaps have been wiser had women not been allowed to work in the factories; but that the evil had now got too far to be easily remedied. He merely made those remarks in a speculative point of view. Undoubtedly, a great portion of the riches of this country had flowed from manufactures—but then the country paid a terrible price for its prosperity. He was old enough to recollect a different state of things as regarded our manufactures; and he must say that the country was then much happier than it was now. In the West Riding of Yorkshire, instead of mills and factories, the people had what might be called domestic manufactures; each dwelling was a little mill where their wives and children could earn a comfortable living, without sacrifice of health and morals; the husband wove, and the wife spun, but still she had time to attend to her maternal and household duties. She was not, as now, confined in a factory, with nothing else to do but to tie knots in worsted, but she had time to mend her husband's clothes and to cook his dinner. The factory women of the present day could do nothing of the sort—they could do nothing beyond tying knots in worsted. It was a common saying of a man in the manufacturing districts, "GOD forbid that I should marry a woman out of a mill." And the reason was because these factory women knew nothing—they had no knowledge how to make a home comfortable. So he said we were paying a great price for the prosperity of our manufactures, but then he admitted it was too late to think of abolishing the system now. The noble Lord opposite told the House to wait until the "progress of civilization" cured the evils which he admitted were in existence. But what did they see about them at that very moment? What was the result of all the civilization we had attained? Was it not that every one was trying to make as much money as he could? Was not the struggle going on—a struggle to produce as much as possible by means of cheap labour? Let the noble Lord look back during the last thirty years, and see the increased number of women engaged in manufactories. The system in some instances had reached its climax, for some of the mills were entirely worked by women —men were entirely excluded. The result had been the demoralization of the women—not in the immoral sense only did he use the word—but he meant that the women adopted the manners and habits of men; they met in clubs, they drank to- gether, and instead of fetching their husbands home from the public-house, their husbands came to fetch them. And yet with all this in existence, we were to wait, according to the noble Lord (Lord Radnor), until civilization put an end to these evils. But he said they could not wait; the Legislature must proceed forthwith to put the mills and factories under some kind of regulation. It was not correct to say that the manufacturers themselves generally objected to this; the majority of the respectable masters were of opinion that the Bills regulating the labour of children and women did good. It was because Government had procured evidence of the existence of great social evils, the result of the existing system, that they now came forward and asked the House to pass the present Bill. When, however, one noble Lord said he should prefer a ten hour Bill to a twelve hour Bill, he answered, that on a question of this magnitude there must be some difference of opinion. But then the noble Lord was much mistaken if he believed that the operative did not think he was to get as much for his ten hours' labour as his twelve hours'. It would be said, that the question had been put to the operatives whether they would consent to lose part of their wages if they got a ten hours Bill. He knew that these persons (under the impression, however, that the contrary would be the result) had replied they were quite willing to submit to a reduction in their wages. But he was quite sure, if wages were reduced, that the operatives would immediately make an attempt to raise them to the original standard, and it was but natural they should make such an attempt. The present Bill did not infringe on the rights of labour, it only went as far as was calculated to do good, and it would do good in the manufacturing districts. To go further would be to run the risk of injury to manufacturing interests, and this was the reason why he asked the House to support the present Bill.

Bill read a third time.