HL Deb 30 May 1845 vol 80 cc1027-33

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read,

The Duke of Buccleuch

, having moved that the House do now resolve itself into Committee, explained that the object of this meaeure was to extend to Calico and other Print Works the provisions of the Factories Act which was passed two years ago.

Lord Brougham

said, he could not refrain from entering his protest against their insisting, year after year, on thus legislating in the wrong direction. Professing great concern for the working classes, they were doing all they could by their legislation to injure and oppress them, and were treating them with what he held to be mere cruelty, under the false guise and garb of humanity. He had formerly entered his protest on the Journals of the House in reference to this kind of legislation; and the objections which he had then urged appeared to him to apply with as much force to the present Bill, although its operation was restricted within narrower limits. In particular, he objected to the 22nd Section of the Bill. Could anything be more absurd than that the Legislature should say that an adult woman—say of thirty years of age—shall cease to work in printworks at nine o'clock, whether she wish it or not? Many persons said they supported such interference because they were anxious to increase the morality of the women so engaged. Why, did they think that those women who were not to be allowed to work after nine o'clock in printworks, could not find a less innocent mode of employing their time? After women were turned out at nine o'clock, he was afraid that it would not be any improvement to their morals. Why did not these dealers in humanity turn dealers in morality also, and introduce a clause rendering it compulsory to go to bed on turning out at that hour? Such an absurdity was not beyond the reach of the humanity mongers, who had lately been so much engaged in meddling in the private affairs of other people. It would not be a bit more absurd than this absurdity which they were called upon to sanction, with its notable preamble. Then with reference to the prohibiting children from working after certain hours, they must not suppose that by stopping children from working at nine o'clock at night, they would only prevent children from working. They would thereby prevent men also from working. The child's labour was as necessary for the man, as the man's labour was for the printing. There could be no relays of children to enable the men to continue working, as the order was to be peremptory that all children must stop work at nine o'clock at night. Besides, he doubted whether it was within the province of the Legislature to find protection for children. The true protection of the child was that which Nature and Divine Providence had furnished it in the care of the parent. He objected generally to the Bill on principle; but the part which he particularly wished to amend was that which regarded females—was that which prevented females of any age, with their own full consent, with the consent of their husbands, if they had husbands—with their own full consent, which they had a right to give or to withhold, and which their Lordships had no right, with their fantastical notions of what was good for them, to compel them to withhold—with their own full consent—from working as late as they pleased, or as men were allowed to work. Why did they not push their humanity a little further, and prevent men, as well as women, from working at noxious and unhealthy trades? Why did they not interpose between the painter and his unwholesome employment—between the needle pointer and the occupation which was in his case almost sure to engender consumption? Why did they permit their jockeys to live in a manner which produced a state of complicated disease, in order that they might be of small weight, and run their Lordships' races? They were very ready to be humane in matters which concerned the manufacturer, but he wished them to be humane in their own proper persons, if humanity was to be the order of the day. He well knew that he exposed himself to the risk of being reckoned cruel, harsh, and ill-disposed to the labouring people, and, to sum up all in one word, to be called a political economist, to be which was regarded by many as the worst of all crimes, by taking this coarse; but he nevertheless stated what was his opinion upon the subject, and did so in real humanity to the working classes. He hoped they would be no longer haunted by measures of this kind, arising one after another, in such rapid succession—with this kind of cheap virtue—this vicarious humanity—this virtue which cost them nothing—this humanity which was exercised in the person and at the cost of others, and which seemed to him, as he had said before, to be one of the most worthless of all articles, its value being small in proportion as its cost was small, and being almost the only cheap article which had neither worth nor value about it. He would take that opportunity of giving notice, that in the next stage of the Bill, when his Amendment could be proposed, he would suggest a small alteration, an alteration so small that it left children to be exposed to the ravages of their humanity, and adults to the infliction of their kindness, with this one exception, as regarded the latter, that of permitting women—women of any age, to work as they pleased.

The Marquess of Normanby

thought that the weight, both of argument and authority, was against the position taken by the noble and learned Lord. Was the noble and learned Lord aware that masters had petitioned on this matter, and that those very persons, in whose behalf he had been speaking, had themselves petitioned their Lordships for a limitation of the hours of work, from every place in which a calico printwork was situated? Besides, had they no experience in this matter? Had the noble and learned Lord read the Report of Mr. Tremenhere, showing the results which had followed legislation, in regard to coal mines? On the working of the Bill passed in regard to these mines, they had now an elaborate Report, and the result shown was, that, without one exception, the men and women engaged in the business of these mines, in behalf of themselves and of their children, approved of the great and beneficial change which had been effected by such legislation. His noble and learned Friend said, "Do not meddle with women." He asked what they would do with themselves after nine o'clock, if this Bill prohibited them from working after that hour. They would do in the factories, as they had already done in the collieries, return to their domestic duties, and become good mothers and good housewives; and so far from the limitation of their hours of work being a loss to them or to their families, it would, in point of economy, and from the order which would be introduced into their domestic establishments, be a gain instead of a loss. They were called on to pass another Act last year. Had they read a Report which showed the result of the eleven hour system in Mr. Gardner's factory at Preston? Not only was more work performed, but better work was done, in the shorter time, than under the old system. That was a proof of the beneficial tendency of the limitation of the hours of labour, which the present Bill and other Bills secured. He wished to take the first opportunity of assuring their Lordships that he was grateful to the Government for undertaking the conduct of this measure.

The Earl of Radnor

thought that there were more important and legitimate concerns with which the Government should meddle; and that it would be much better if they occupied themselves with these, than in attempting to interfere with the affairs of other people. Whenever they interfered in the way now proposed, they did so mischievously. If children, in some works, wrought for eight hours, and others were to have the limit fixed for ten, either these latter were worked too much, or the former too little. This eternal meddling was utterly unnecessary. It was said that the principle of limitation had been introduced with great advantage into Mr. Gardner's factory at Preston. If it had been introduced with advantage into any one factory, could any one doubt what result would follow? Why should the Legislature interfere, if it could be so introduced, and with manifest advantage, without interference? If the experiment worked well, would not the owners of other factories adopt the practice? In such case the Legislature need not step in and compel them to do so. As to the Report in relation to coal mines, which had been alluded to, the impression made by it upon his mind was different from that which seemed to have been left upon the mind of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Normanby). Instead of the women availing themselves of the privilege conferred by the law, it was said that they put on men's clothes, and worked as men instead of as women. There had been great distress among these women, nor could they return to their domestic habits, because they never had any: from childhood they were brought up to work in the mines, and those who did not work as men were reduced to a state of starvation. A subscription had been set on foot by a noble Friend of his in aid of those women who had been deprived of their livelihood by the Act of the Legislature. Everybody was more competent to manage his own affairs than was the Legislature for him. These matters should be left to themselves, and he would enter his protest against their interfering with those matters which exclusively concerned other people.

Lord Campbell

hoped that the Government would, in a future stage of the Bill, reconsider the 22nd Clause. Agreeing with his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) that the Legislature should not interfere with labour any more than it should with capital, he thought, nevertheless, that they were bound to interfere for the protection of those who were incompetent to take care of themselves. His noble and learned Friend might as well have said, that they should not protect minors from contracts into which they might indiscreetly enter, as that they should not protect them against excessive labour. But, as regarded the 22nd Clause, it seemed to him unnecessary to interfere with adult labour, or with the labour of those who were sui juris. He approved of the Bill preventing women from working in coal mines; but the work of women in printworks was allowed to be a fit employment for females. Why, then, should they say, that a woman of forty years of age who had a large family to support, or without a large family, who wished, by working extra hours, to lay by something for her old age, should be compelled to leave the factory, the work of which was perfectly fit for her, when the clock struck nine? That seemed to him to be a wanton interference with adult labour. He hoped the noble Duke (the Duke of Buccleuch) would reconsider this before the Bill was again brought before them. He would again repeat it as his opinion, that Clause 22 was a mischievous interference with adult labour.

The Duke of Buccleuch

said, that with regard to what had fallen from the noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham), it was very unfortunate that he had not found fault with the preambles of some Bills which had been introduced a few years ago; for in 1833, a Factory Bill had passed that House, and that Bill had been introduced by the Government of which the noble Lord was a distinguished Member, which Bill recognised the principle that it was necessary that the labour of children should be regulated. With regard to the proposed restrictions upon the labour of women, the work which they had to undergo was not always of so light and fitting a description as the other noble and learned Lord who had spoken (Lord Campbell) seemed to suppose. They had often to stand up to their knees in wet, in washing cloths, preparatory to their being dyed. He had heard nothing that evening which could induce him to alter his opinion upon the entire Bill, or upon the clause alluded to by the noble and learned Lord, especially when he considered the satisfactory manner in which the Act of last year had worked.

Lord Brougham

observed, that the noble Duke was mistaken as to what he stated about the Bill of 1833, if he thought it similar to the present one in the point to which he (Lord Brougham) took exception. His objection to the present Bill was that it stated that "whereas it is expedient" as a general proposition, "to regulate the labour of women in printworks." His objection, then, was as to their attempting to regulate the labour of women, with which they had nothing to do; and he totally denied that the Bill of last year afforded any precedent for this, because the labour thereby prohibited was improper labour for women to be allowed to be employed in at all.

[It was here intimated that the Bill of last year was the Factories Bill, and not the Mines and Collieries Bill.]

House in Committee.

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