HL Deb 07 July 1857 vol 146 cc1024-30

, in rising to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committtee, said that his object was to put himself in a position to prove to the House the necessity of the re-enactment of a measure which had been in operation thirteen years, and which only expired last year. The coalwhippers of London and their families numbered not less than 12,000 souls; and it was extremely painful to think that such a large number of human beings should be dependent on so pernicious a system of employment as that to which the coalwhippers of the metropolitan port were subjected. The Coalwhippers Act was first introduced in 1843 by Mr. Gladstone, for the purpose of remedying the crying evil of having a large class of men compelled to obtain employment through the agency of the keepers of public-houses, and thereby perpetually exposed to the temptation of intoxication. It was passed for three years. At the expiration of that time it was renewed for five years more; in 1851 it was again renewed, but expired in 1856. A Committee to whom an inquiry into this matter was referred had reported that both masters and men had derived great advantage from the measure, the great feature of which was the establishment of an office at which the coalwhippers should be employed, instead of at public-houses, as had been the custom previously to the passing of the Act. The Committee reported that after the passing of the Act, and when its provisions were in force, the men generally came to their work in a fit state to do it, and not in a state of intoxication, as had been too frequently the case under the old system; and further, that notwithstanding this improved condition of things, wages had not increased. However, when the Act expired last year, and the renewal of it was spoken of, the coalowners persuaded the Government to postpone the proposed Bill, promising that they would themselves establish an office under similar regulations to those enjoined by the Bill; that, in fact, the only difference should be, that the new system would be voluntary, whereas the former one was compulsory. The Vice President of the Board of Trade was satisfied with that assurance, but he stated that, unless the engagements were carried out both in the letter and spirit, he should bring in a Bill on the subject. If their Lordships would grant him a Committee, he would undertake to prove that many of the evils of the former demoralizing system were now again in operation. He held in his hand the testimony of persons unconnected with the coalwhippers of the port of London, who asserted of their own knowledge, that the public-house system of employing the coalwhippers was again in operation, and was injurious to the morals and best interests of the men engaged In this branch of industry. His noble Friend the President of the Board of Trade would, no doubt, contend, that all interference in the matter would be contrary to the principles of political economy; but what he (Lord Kinnaird) sought was, not that there should be legislative interference between the employed and the employers, but that the present system, which precluded these unfortunate coalwhippers from obtaining employment except through the medium of the public-house keepers should be put an end to. Many instances could be pointed out in which the families of these men had been ruined by a resort to the old system. Only a few days ago, a man who had refused to run up a score at one of the public-houses had been kept waiting a whole day for the payment of his wages. At last, knowing that his wife and children were starving at home in his absence, in a moment of irritation he assaulted the public-house keeper. The result was, that he was taken before a magistrate, who, feeling that his case was a hard one, inflicted upon him the smallest penalty which was permitted by the law. He (Lord Kinnaird) might also mention another instance, in which one of these poor men had been forced by the system into a public-house, where he had been induced to drink to excess, and had survived that excess only a few hours. Those unhappy occurrences he attributed to the operation of the present system, and he trusted, therefore, the attention of his noble Friend the President of the Board of Trade would be directed to the subject. His noble Friend or the House ought not to forget that, upon the celebrated 10th of April, when the country was saved from bloodshed by the conduct of the working classes, the poor coalwhippers had shown their gratitude for the protection that had been afforded to them by the Legislature, by coming forward in a body and enrolling themselves as special constables. The noble Lord concluded by moving, that the Coalwhippers Bill be referred to a Select Committee, under Standing Order No. 175, respecting Bills for regulating Trade.


said, that the Motion of the noble Lord was not strictly in accordance with his notice; but a more grave objection to the course pursued by the noble Lord was, that he sought to treat as a public measure a Bill that was in all respects a private one. The Bill, inasmuch as it proposed to affect only a particular locality and a particular body of men, must be regarded as a private Bill, and should, therefore, in accordance with the Standing Orders of their Lordships' House, have been introduced upon petition, so that all those parties whose rights might be interfered with under its operation should have an opportunity of objecting to it if they thought proper. The Motion of his noble Friend was one, therefore, to which their Lordships would, he thought, not deem it expedient to agree, even upon that preliminary ground. But, be that as it might, he was opposed to the Bill upon the substantial merits of the case. It was quite true that in the year 1843 great evils did exist under the operation of a system by which coalwhippers were engaged by the owners of public-houses. Indeed, their case had been considered one of so exceptional a character as to justify the Government in passing a measure by which the principles of political economy were so far departed from; for there could be no doubt that in passing the Act of 1843, the Government departed from those principles and rules that ought to regulate matters of trade, and which provide that employers should be able to hire those whom they wished to engage without being forced to go into any particular market. The measure of 1843 was subsequently three or four times renewed; but upon its expiration in 1856 it had become a question with the Government whether it should be continued. That question having been submitted for decision to the department over which he had the honour to preside, deputations from the coalowners of the north of England, as well as from persons in the metropolis and throughout the country, connected with the trade, waited upon him, and represented to him that the monopoly which had for some years been established had had the effect of raising in a considerable degree the price of coal, and had prevented employers from procuring the services of workmen so efficient ns they would be in a position to obtain if the market wore unrestricted; they represented also that the protection was no longer necessary on the ground of morality. Having listened to the reasons which had been put forward by those deputations, he felt himself obliged to concur in the views which they had put forward; but he stated that previous legislation had had for its object the putting a stop to a state of things which all must agree in regarding as being of a very lamentable nature. He had thereupon been assured by the coalowners that they were perfectly willing to establish an office of their own for the registration of the men, and to enter into a written engagement that the coals of London should be whipped only by persons engaged at that office. That proposition of the coalowners the Board of Trade accepted, and he was bound to say that the agreement into which they had entered had been kept in the most exemplary manner on their part. They had established an office, in which a large proportion of the coalwhippers of London were engaged. Some, of course, were engaged by gas companies and private individuals under the old system; but so far as he could ascertain, out of the 1,200 men who were employed in the trade on the Thames 800 were registered at the office to which he referred, while 300 or 400 were engaged in the service of private individuals and of the gas companies. He, for one, would be extremely unwilling to revert to the former state of the law, and reimpose upon coalowners or shippers of coal obligations which were opposed to every sound principle of political economy.


regarded the measure as a special and exceptional piece of legislation. The proposal to refer the subject to a Select Committee was, no doubt, one likely to obtain supporters, but the Bill was one that was opposed to the principles of political economy, and would be subversive of that good feeling which ought always to exist between employer and employed. The public-house arrangement, of which the noble Lord opposite complained, arose from a state of things which had now ceased to exist. In former times the coalowner sold his coals to the shipowner, who shipped them, and sold them wherever he could find a market, and the result was that the shipowner was compelled to make arrangements with the owners of public-houses on the banks of the Thames or other rivers. That state of things had, however, been completely put an end to, and the coalowners were at present as much opposed to the public-house arrangement as any one else could be. The only cases which had been adduced in support of the Bill were entirely of an exceptional character, and he could not admit that instances of abuse furnished any ground for interfering between employer and employed in the mode proposed by this Bill.


said, in reply to the suggestion that this was, in reality, not a public but a private Bill, he would observe that the Act which it proposed to continue (the 14 & 15 Vict.) was itself a continuance of a former measure, and that both these had been treated as public Bills or Acts. He thought that the House should grant the Select Committee, which was all that was now asked for, leaving open for future consideration whether they should pass the Bill itself. He thought it was a sufficient case in support of this Bill that they had a class of laborious men employed in a most toilsome business, to whom they had formerly given the protection of the Legislature, and who asked that that protection should still be continued to them to save them from the greatest evils to which men could be subjected; and he certainly did think that the House was bound to inquire Into the case presented on their behalf. This measure would not interfere between employer and employed. It only protected the labour market from the tyranny which the possession of certain advantages on the spot gave to publicans and others, and which would, if the men are not protected, interfere with the freedom of the labour market.


was understood to contend that the arguments of the right rev. Prelate were wholly insufficient to induce the House to assent to the course suggested, and to urge their Lordships to reject the Motion for referring the Bill to a Select Committee.


supported the Motion for referring the question to a Select Committee.


said, he had expected to hear from some Member of the Government a distinct explanation of the manner in which the existing law had failed to satisfy just expectations, and why it should not be renewed. Instead of that, however, the President of the Board of Trade had dealt in mere generalities, and had not shown, in any way, how the old law damaged the interests either of the coal-owners or the coalwhippers. Upon the point of order—as to whether this was a private or a public Bill—he should like to have the opinion of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees.


said, that unless he had an assurance from the Government that they would grant a Select Committee to consider the whole subject, he would divide the House upon his Motion.


said, he was inclined to think that the Bill was a public Bill. Former Bills on the same subject had passed as public Bills. There was certainly a clause in it which was a privilege clause—the 15th—inasmuch as it gave power to levy rates.

On Question, their Lordships divided:—Contents 31; Not-Contents 27: Majority 4.

Resolved in the affirmative; The Committee to be named on Thursday next.

Manchester, D. Berners, L.
Newcastle, D. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)
Norfolk, D.
Bath, M. Calthorpe, L.
Exeter M. Colchester, L. [Teller.]
Congleton, L.
Amherst, E. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Belmore, E.
Malmesbury, E. Moore, L. (M. Drogheda)
Pomfret, E.
Powis, E. Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)
Selkirk, E.
Shaftesbury, E. Polwrth, L.
Stanhope, E. Rossie, L.(L. Kinnaird.) [Teller.]
Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.) Silchester, L. (Longford.)
Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Somerhill. L. (M. Clanricarde.)
Chichestor, Bp. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Oxford, Bp. Wynford, L.
Cranworth, L.(L. Chancellor.) Harrowby, E.
Ilchester, E.
Spencer, E.
Cleveland, D. Vane, E.
Breadalbane, M.
Lansdowne, M. Combermere, V.
Townshend, M. Dungannon, V.
Hardinge, V.
Granville, E. Sydney, V.
Aveland, L. Panmure, L.
Belper, L. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.) [Teller].
Churchill, L.
Clandeboye, L. (L. Dufferin and Claneboye.) Ravensworth, L.
Stanley of Alderley, L.
Downes, L.
Foley, L. [Teller.] Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)
Lovel and Holland, L. (E. Egyomnt.)
Wensleydale, L.