HL Deb 31 May 1844 vol 75 cc80-6

The House resolved itself into a Committee of the whole House on the Factories Bill.

On Clause 9,

Lord Teynham

said, there was no provision in the Bill requiring the inspection of children at stated periods, and rendering it imperative to exclude from work any child who was found to be injured by the work or confinement of Factories. He thought this an omission. The objections of many persons to the Twelve Hours Clause would be done away with, and many heartburnings on this question would be put an end to if such a provision were introduced into the Bill, and a provision requiring that no child should be re-introduced into a Factory until a certificate from a surgeon had been obtained that it was recovered, and that the labour would not injure it. He would not propose any Amendment, but threw this out as a suggestion.

Lord Wharncliffe

thought that sufficient protection was afforded already by the certificate required by the Act.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 18,

Lord Brougham

said, he had not seen much in the Bill to excite his admiration and respect for it; but this Clause was the height of absurdity. It was a Bill to protect people from the consequences of their own improvidence—to give increased wages for lessened work—to interfere in the market of labour. The present Clause related to the cleansing of factories. Distinguished foreigners visiting this country might be induced to ask, when they saw our factories—huge unsightly buildings— if they were remnants of the feudal ages —specimens of the architecture of the eighth or ninth century? The answer would be, "Oh, no; of the nineteenth century, and towards the middle thereof." In their interference with this question, their meddling and dabbling, they had exceeded themselves; for about the middle of the 18th Clause he found it provided, That all the inside walls, ceilings or tops of rooms, whether plastered or not, and all the passages and staircases of every factory, which shall not have been painted with oil once at least in seven years, shall be lime washed once at least within every successive period of fourteen months, to date from the period when last whitewashed; and all the inside walls and ceilings or tops of rooms in which children or young persons are employed (meaning thereby women of sixty or seventy years of age—interesting young persons) and which are painted with oil, shall be washed with hot water and soap. It did not say (and he marvelled at it) of what temperature. It should not be less than 212 of Fahrenheit, or 100 of Raumer; and this hot water and soap was to be applied "once at least within every successive period of fourteen months, as aforesaid." He hardly knew what age of the world he was living in. He hoped the House would not overlook altogether the comfort of the peasantry, and he hoped to see a Bill brought in, enacting that all the inside walls or tops of cottages, whether plastered or not, and all the passages and staircases of cottages which had a staircase, should be lime-washed once in fourteen months, and that all the chinks and crannies through which any wind, hail, snow, or sleet could pass, should be barred up with straw or clay, or otherwise, and that this should be covered with a little plaster, not exceeding so much to keep out the weather; and with a preamble stating, that "whereas it was unwholesome for young persons to be exposed to night air (not merely young persons of seventy), and that it was desirable that there should be a special provision against damp beds and damp clothes, to be made dry and comfortable at the expense of their employers; and, above all, that no pigstyes should be allowed to be near their dwellings, or any dunghills near where they slept, for nothing could be more unwholesome,"—cow-houses might be permitted where pulmonary complaints existed, for they were thought in some cases wholesome; and for greater accuracy he would state in what cases cow-houses might be allowed, and where not—all these were matters of detail. His object was to show how absurd was this kind of legislation. It was impossible they could enter into all these details. Then there was a provision for preventing the escape of steam into any room occupied by workmen. "Really," continued the noble and learned Lord, "really, my Lords, I feel that this is great nonsense." The noble Lord threw the Bill on the Table, and sat down.

Lord Wharnclifie

said, it was necessary to lay down regulations for the protection of persons working in Factories, and this was the whole object of the Clause. It was merely following out the Act which now existed.

The Clause was then agreed to.

On Clause 29,

Earl Fitzwilliam

said it was singular that everybody was in favour of this Bill—the Whigs, the Tories, and the political economists. ["No!"] Oh! many political economists in the other House of Parliament had come forward to support the Bill, for One or two of whom he had the greatest regard; and not only had they taken the Bill under their protection, but they were not satisfied with it, and wished to carry it a little further. There was much, he must be allowed to say, in the present Bill which occasioned in his mind no small surprise. He could not, for the life of him, understand upon what grounds the Bill was limited to this particular species of labour. He wanted to know why the Bill should comprehend the particular classes of children which were made the subject of its care? He desired to be informed why the Bill did not go a little further? Why did not the framers of the measure take better care of the moral character of other classes of the community—why were all others thrown overboard? He observed that this measure in its passage through the other House had enjoyed the support and patronage of the landed interest. They appeared to take the Bill quite under their protection. Now, he could not help lamenting that those Gentlemen did not extend their protection to that portion of the working classes who were more immediately connected with them. He knew that it might be said that those mines and factories were dismal places in which to shut up poor human beings; but, from his own experience, he was enabled to say that the temperature in these mines was surprisingly equable and agreeable, and when they talked of the bad air in which factory children were confined, he begged to remind their Lordships that the air in the old House of Commons was much worse than that of any factory. If the condition of working children so very urgently needed protection, he wanted to know why they did not extend the Bill to agricultural labourers? How much worse: off than a child in a mine or a factory was the unfortunate child planted in an open tilled field to scare off birds or trespassers! He had often seen children—under the age to which the Bill gave protection—stationed in fields, exposed to all sorts of weather, and asking passers-by the hour of the day, earnestly hoping for that which should emancipate them from their painful and laborious posts. He wondered, then, that nothing was to be done for the agricultural labourers. The gentlemen of landed property were ready enough to give what they called protection to the farmer, on a question totally different from the present, but in the present case they overlooked altogether the necessity of protection. For his part, he felt bound to object to this species of interference. He saw no reason why the Legislature should meddle with the right which every man possessed to do as he thought proper with his own industry: —it was a monstrous misapplication of benevolence thus to interfere with the only property which the poor man had. He not only complained of the interference, but he complained of the manner in which that interference took place—the interference was one-sided, it was one-eyed, it was an unjust limitation of the productive powers of the country; and he desired their Lordships to recollect that the strikes amongst the pitmen of the north were encouraged, if not produced from this species of unjust and unequal legislation.

The Marquess of Normanby

denied that this Bill was, as had been represented, a retrogression. It was nothing of the sort. He admitted that the agricultural classes underwent some hardships, but which of the working, classes escaped hardship, and their toils were light and pleasing compared with the sufferings endured by factory children. The agricultural classes enjoyed many more domestic comforts, and the duration of life was much greater amongst them, even in the county of Dorset, than in the manufacturing districts. In those districts only 1,068 persons out of every 10,000 attained the age of fifty; whereas, in Dorsetshire, 1,556 out of every 10,000 attained that age; in Rutlandshire, 1,608; and in the North Riding of Yorkshire, 1,699; and in the county of Westmoreland, the difference was as nine to seventeen under one year of age, and over fifty still greater. His noble Friend inquired why they did not interfere for the benefit of the agricultural classes; to that it was only necessary to reply that the course of nature sufficiently protected them. As to saying that the whole profit of the manufacturer depended upon the last two hours—that was said in 1816, when the late Sir Robert Peel obtained a Committee of the House of Commons, and when the proposition was to reduce the working hours from sixteen to fourteen. At all times it would be necessarily believed and said, that the whole profit depended upon the last two hours. Now recent facts clearly showed that for apprehensions of this kind there was no solid foundation, for manufactures had flourished under these shortened hours of labour, and one, that of cotton twist, had increased 1,300 per cent.

The Bishop of Ripon

, expressed, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of factory children committed to spiritual care, at the limitation about to be imposed on factory labour, begged to state, that he believed the changes proposed to be carried into effect by the Bill now before their Lordships would give very general satisfaction. He was glad to observe the limitations of labour fixed by this Bill, but he could not help regretting that that limitation was not carried further.

The Earl of Winchilsea

said, he deeply regretted limitation of labour had not been extended to ten hours. He admitted that the Bill was a great improvement upon the existing state of the law. Formerly, persons had been compelled to work for sixteen hours; but still he deeply regretted that the limitation was not to ten hours.

Clause agreed to, as were the 30th and 31st.

On the 32d Clause, which enacts that no female above eighteen years of age shall be employed in any factory save for the same time and in the same manner as young persons,

Lord Kinnaird

moved that this Clause be struck out of the Bill, as the effect of it would be to sanction an improper improper interference with labour. He thought that this Clause was of so much importance that be should divide the House upon it.

Lord Campbell

opposed the restriction on adult labour.

Lord Wharncliffe

thought that this was the most material Clause in the Bill, there existed a strong feeling in the country against the excessive employment of females, and he thought it would be well if female labour could be altogether dispensed with, so that females could turn their entire attention to domestic matters. But as circumstances did not permit this, the Bill proposed to place some restriction on their excessive toil.

Lord Brougham

agreed with his noble Friend (Lord Kinnaird) that the Clause ought not to be in the Bill. He contended that the support which it had received from some of the labouring classes was owing to their ignorance of its effects, many believing that it would secure to them twelve hours' wages for ten hours' work. This misapprehension, however, was disappearing in the manufacturing districts, and the change of sentiment was travelling southward. He did not see why, if the Legislature limited the labour of women in factories, they should not interfere on behalf of washerwomen, who began at five o'clock in the morning and left off at eleven o'clock at night; and also with wetnurses. And the health of the last class was of much importance, as they suckled the children of both Houses of Parliament, with the exception of, perhaps, one per cent. When any complaint was made of the over-working of these and [other classes it was said, "Oh, let them take care of themselves;" and why should not women in factories be allowed to take care of themselves? He repeated, that the labourers in the factories would be the first to feel and complain of the ill effects of this Bill.

The Marquess of Normanby

said, it was his intention to vote against the Motion of his noble Friend (Lord Kinnaird). But still he contended that more time should be allowed to women in factories to fulfil their domestic duties and to acquire education. It appeared from the returns that the proportion of women who could not write in the counties of Lancaster and Dorset, was nearly two to one against the former. The effect of labour in manufactories was shown by the fact that regiments raised there did not last half so long as those raised in agricultural counties. Recruits from the former were often rejected on account of unfitness. He would vote in favour of the amendment of his noble Friend.

Lord Campbell

said, he thought the Clause an unnecessary and mischievous interference with female labour, and he would vote for the Amendment of the noble Lord (Lord Kinnaird), By the decree of Providence it was the fate of women as well as men to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow; and he believed that labour in factories was better adapted to the female frame than many other descriptions of work. At the same time he considered, twelve hours a-day a sufficient period for female labour.

Lord Brougham

said, as the question had been put upon a moral ground by a noble Lord opposite, and by a right Rev. Prelate whom he did not then see in his place, and who no doubt, was much better engaged, he begged to call their Lordships' attention to a return showing the comparative number of illegitimate children born in the manufacturing and agricultural districts. (The noble and learned Lord read the return at length, from which it appeared that the number of illegitimate children in the agricultural districts considerably exceeded that in the manufacturing districts.)

The Rarl of Winchilsea

said, that in the manufacturing districts a great number of children were born out of wedlock, who were supposed to be legitimate from the fact of the parents living together, and representing themselves as married. Of these children no account was taken in the returns quoted by the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Redesdale

said, that the return read by the noble and learned Lord referred not to the number of illegitimate children actually born, but to the number relieved from the Poor Rates.

The Committee divided on the question that the Clause stand part of the Bill.— Contents 48; Not Contents 21:—Majority 27.

List of the NOT-CONTENTS.
Lansdowne Gardner
EARLS. Ponsonby
Lovelace Monteagle
Auckland Somerville
Radnor Campbell
Fitzwilliam Brougham
Fitzhardinge Sudeley
Morley Lurgan
Minto Foley
LORDS. Beaumont
Colbourne Rossie

The other Clauses of the Bill agreed to, and the House resumed.

House adjourned.