HL Deb 19 June 1856 vol 142 cc1668-71

said, that, in asking their Lordships to give a second reading to this Bill, which had already passed the House of Commons, and which had there received the sanction of Her Majesty's Government—the more important clauses having, he believed, been framed under the direction of the Home Secretary—it would not be necessary for him to occupy much of their Lordships' time while, he explained the main principles of the measure. The main object of the Bill was to relieve the manufacturers from the inconveniences which would result from a construction recently put upon the Factory Amendment Act of 1844—a construction which, carried to its full extent, would in some cases render the operation of the Bill absolutely impracticable, and in others would involve an amount of expenditure, inconvenience, and annoyance for which no corresponding advantage could be derived. While, however, the Bill proposed to give effect to what he believed were the original intentions of the Act of 1844, and to place machinery and mill-gearing, which were now dealt with separately under that Act, precisely under the same conditions; it contained also, provisions which would, he thught, render some of the protective portions of that Act more available than they had hitherto been. He would remind their Lordships that the original Act of 1833 and the Amendment Act of 1844 were intended for the protection of children and young persons in factories. They were protected against over-work, over-hours, against being employed under a proper age, and against various hardships to which they were exposed. After the Act of 1833 came into operation, the factory inspectors continued to report upon the danger which these children ran owing to portions of the machinery not being properly fenced. Many of the manufacturers had of their own accord boxed off the upright shafts, and all those portions of the machinery likely to endanger children and young persons; and by the Act of 1844 that was made compulsory. There was another provision in the Act to this effect—that if the factory inspectors considered any portion of the machinery to be dangerous to the workmen they should give notice to the mill-owner, and the mill-owner, if he thought the requirement of the inspector was unjust, had the option of calling for an arbitration to decide whether or not the inspector's notice should be cancelled. In order to show that the manufacturers did not wish to make this provision a means of escape from the operation of the Bill, he might mention that arbitration had only been resorted to in seventeen instances, and in fourteen out of those seventeen cases a decision had been given against the manufacturer. Now, the same clause which required the fencing of all portions of the machinery with which young persons were likely to come into contact provided that all the mill-gearing should be fenced, and mill-gearing was, in point of fact, interpreted in the Act to mean all the motive power—that was to say, every shaft, every drum and pulley appertaining to the process of manufacture. It was clearly the intention of the framers of the Act that the same principle should be applied to mill-gearing as was applied to machinery—namely, that that with which the operatives came immediately into contact should be absolutely fenced, but that in cases where there was any doubt about the danger, manufacturers were to have the power of calling in arbitrators. By the terms of the Act, however, it was provided that all mill-gearing should be absolutely fenced. So far was this from being the construction put upon the Act by the manufacturers and inspectors that, in a case which was carried into one of the law courts, Mr. Justice Cresswell ruled that where a horizontal shaft, being part of the mill-gearing, was at the height of nine or ten feet from the ground, the very space between it and the heads of those employed below, amounted to the secure fencing required by the Act. The Court of Queen's Bench, however, decided that that was, in point of fact, repealing the Act of Parliament, and that, according to the Act, it was necessary for all the mill-gearing, whether in a dangerous position or not, to be securely fenced. In some cases such fencing was admitted by the factory inspectors to be impossible, and he might mention that there were cases in which the horizontal shafts extended for eight or nine miles, and at a height of nine or ten feet from the ground—a height which precluded the possibility of danger except from straps. Under such circumstances, he would ask their Lordships whether it was reasonable to enforce such an enormous expenditure as would be rendered necessary by the boxing off of that machinery. But the manufacturers did not ask Parliament to exempt this mill-gearing from being fenced. All they wished was, that mill-gearing should be put precisely on the same footing as machinery, namely—that where its position was a dangerous one to children and young persons there its fencing should be absolutely required, but that in other cases the arbitration applicable to machinery should be applicable to mill-gearing. That was, in point of fact, the whole object of the Bill so far as the protection of the manufacturer was concerned. But there was an omission in the Act of 1844 which this Bill was meant to supply. It was remarkable that, though that Act required all mill-gearing to be securely fenced, there was no specific penalty for the neglect of this precaution. There was a penalty of from £5 to £20 for neglect to enclose dangerous machinery, and there was also a penalty for neglect to enclose that portion to which the attention of the manufacturer had been specially directed by the factory inspector, in the event of an arbitration going against the mill-owner, but this was only after some accident had arisen from that neglect. The only clause which applied a penalty to the non-fencing oft he mill-gearing was a subsequent clause, by which it was enacted that, in the case of any offence left unprovided for in the former portion of the Act, a penalty of not less than £2 and not more than £5 was to be inflicted. Practically, therefore, the penalty attaching to the most important offence was the least in amount, and this penalty was only inflicted incidentally. The present Bill was intended to supply that omission. He had already stated that, unless some accident occurred from the neglect of the manufacturer to comply with the recommendations of the inspector after an arbitration had gone against him, no specific penalty was provided. By this Bill it would be enacted that if, within a reasonable time after the arbitration had gone against the manufacturer he failed to comply with the requirements of the inspector, no matter whether an accident had occurred or not, he should be liable to the same penalty as if an accident really had resulted from his neglect. These were the provisions proposed. The Bill in no way infringed upon the protection at present afforded to the operatives; on the contrary, it practically rendered that protection more efficient than before; but it released the manufacturer from a construction of the Act which the inspectors themselves admitted it would be impossible in all cases to act up to. He trusted that, after the explanations he had given, their Lordships would not hesitate to give the Bill a second reading.


said, the measure met with his entire approbation. The language in the Act of 1844, which the Court of Queen's Bench was called upon to interpret, as alluded to by the noble Earl, appeared to them so plain that they could entertain no doubt about it. The Court decided upon the meaning of the Legislature as contained in the Act, although he did not believe that was the meaning of the framers of the Act.


owned that it was most important that the question should be settled by the Legislature. He thought some of the clauses considerably limited the right of the operatives to obtain compensation for injuries which they might sustain from coming in contact with the machinery in factories. As he read the 6th clause of the Bill, it limited the operatives to obtaining any compensation for accidents caused by any portion of the machinery, except such portions of it as might be considered dangerous to children and young persons. Now, in the present Factory Act there was no such limitation. All these matters could, however, be discussed in Committee, and he certainly should not oppose the second reading of the Bill.

Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Tuesday next.