HL Deb 13 July 1866 vol 184 cc781-2

As I see my noble Friend at the head of the Government (the Earl of Derby) in his place, perhaps he will allow me to put a Question of which I have given him private notice. A short time ago I asked the noble Earl then at the head of the Administration, whether it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill founded upon the recommendations of the Commission appointed to inquire into the expediency of extending the operation of the Factory Acts to women and children engaged in certain trades and manufactures not at present protected by them. The noble Earl replied that it was his intention to bring in such a Bill. Since then a great deal of valuable time has been lost; and perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say a few words with the view of showing the great importance of the question. Since the Factory Acts have been passed between 600,000 or 700,000 persons have been brought under their operation. Subsequently a Commission was appointed to consider the condition of women and children employed in manufactures to which those Acts did not apply. In 1862 another Commission was constituted, and in 1864 certain measures were propounded with the object of bringing under the protection of the Factory Acts about 40,000 or 50,000 persons in addition. There were, however, still no fewer than 1,400,000 women and young persons who were not, but who ought to be, placed under the operation of the Acts. These people are toiling from daybreak till night, and many of them through the night. The labour in which they are engaged is most oppressive. They are shut out from every domestic comfort and enjoyment, and the children are debarred from all hope of education. I think my noble Friend will admit the subject to be of so much importance as to deserve the attention of Her Majesty's Government. Should my noble Friend state that the Government will not be able to bring in a Bill this Session, I trust he will assure your Lordships that during the recess these great interests shall be taken into consideration.


I quite admit the importance of the subject referred to by my noble Friend, whose exertions with reference to this subject have been productive of very great benefit. Immediately upon receiving the private communication which my noble Friend was good enough to give me, I sent to the Home Office to ascertain whether any Bill upon the subject was in the course of preparation. I understand that such a Bill is in course of preparation, but that at present it is in so imperfect a state that it would be impossible to introduce it during the present Session. The question has already engaged the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who informs me that it is so large and so important that he thinks that any attempt to deal with it hastily would be productive of more evil than good. The question will engage the attention of the Government during the approaching recess; but my noble Friend is perfectly aware that it will be necessary for us to proceed with the utmost possible caution. I can say, for myself and my Colleagues, that the success of previous measures for the curtailment of labour will stimulate us to attempt further legislation in the same direction.

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