rose, pursuant to notice, to present a Petition from 5,000 inhabitants of Leigh, in Lancashire, praying for a Committee of Inquiry into the condition of the Handloom Weavers. The noble Lord stated, that the statements of the Petitioners related chiefly to low wages, unjust abatements, and the want of employment. They complained also that the Arbitration Act was not properly carried out. The noble Lord read a number of papers for the purpose of showing that the Silk Weavers were subject to unjust abatements of wages, and that the law, as at present existing, was not sufficient to protect the workmen—justice being neither so speedy nor so economical as it ought to be. The petitioners, he observed, came before their Lordships with a statement of grievances, which, looking to the condition of the manufacturing districts, to the state of the markets in those districts, and to other circumstances, would, he thought, justify the Government in holding out some indication, however slight, of an intention to take their case into consideration, with a view to remedy those grievances. As he understood the noble Earl opposite intended to make a statement in reference to the petition, he would not move for a Committee. He would only assure the noble Earl he had every reason to believe that the allegations of the petitioners could be distinctly proved. The noble Lord concluded by presenting the Petition, in which the petitioners prayed for some legislative enactments to protect them from the unjust encroachments of unprincipled masters, for the establishment of a board of trade, composed of masters and workmen, and for a Committee to inquire into the system of cruel and unjust abatements of which they complained.
The Earl of Dalhousie
was glad the 1365 noble Lord did not intend to move for a Committee, as he (Lord Dalhousie) should have felt it an ungracious task to attempt to persuade their Lordships from granting it as it would have been his duty to do. But the case of the Handloom Silk Weavers had so frequently been the subject of inquiry before Committees of both Houses, and more particularly by a Commission whose labours extended over three years, their distress was so well known, and the result of those inquiries had proved so clearly that the remedies which the parties themselves had looked for were beyond the reach of legislative power, that to attempt now to renew the appointment of a Committee would only excite and encourage hopes which, ending, as they inevitably and unfortunately must, in disappointment, would only aggravate the distress and increase the difficulties which the Handloom Weavers were from time to time unhappily involved in. The noble Lord did not enter into any general statement of their case, but restricted himself to the point, as stated by the petitioners in their memorial, of those abatements of wages which they alleged to be unjustly made by masters in the oppressive exercise of their power; and he was not inclined to dispute any of the statements made by the noble Lord on that point. He believed that documents at present on their Lordships' Table would afford sufficient proof of the partial existence of such a system; and show, that although a great number of manufacturers were free from any charge upon the subject, yet that there were some who did take advantage of the necessities of the workmen, and deduct an undue proportion of their wages. The matter was one which had already engaged the attention of the Government, and been for some time under their consideration; but, as the House must be aware, it was necessary to proceed with extreme caution in a law which affected a trade scattered over the country as this was, and governed by regulations which were as various as the localities themselves. It was necessary gravely to consider all the evidence that had been collected upon the subject before they could venture to make alterations in the law, however plausible they might be, so that in removing the grievances in one locality they might not make the matter worse in another. He would give no positive pledge for the introduction of a Bill to amend that Clause of the Arbitration Act, to which the noble Lord adverted but he could assure the 1366 noble Lord that the question would be considered without loss of time, and that the sincerest desire existed on the part of the Government to remedy such imperfections as might be found in that Act. If after a deliberate consideration of the whole case it should be found that the difficulties were such as to render any attempt at alteration undesirable, his noble Friend would, of course, have notice to that effect, and it would then be open to him to renew his Motion for a Committee of Inquiry, or adopt such other course as he might think best.
thanked the noble Earl for his assurance that the question would be anxiously considered, particularly as he admitted the existence of the grievance of abatement of wages in the district from which the Petition emanated.
The Earl of Dalhousie
wished to be perfectly accurate in his statement. He admitted the existence of the grievance of abatement of wages; but he did not say that it existed in the particular place alluded to, because the inquiry had not been carried into that particular place.
§ House adjourned.