HL Deb 24 February 1870 vol 199 cc760-2

asked, If Her Majesty's Government intend to bring in a measure to amend the Hours of Labour Regulation Act, which was commonly known as the Workshops Act? He must say he should be disappointed if the Government did not answer his Question in the affirmative, or, at least, did not promise to take up the matter next Session. It was notorious that the Act was almost a dead letter in almost all parts of the country, almost its only value being as a recognition of extending the principle of the Factory Acts, by providing Limited hours of labour and education for young persons engaged in workshops. No measure of equal importance had proved so weak in its executive part, and he doubted whether those who carried it had the least ex- pectation, or even intention, that it would nave any appreciable effect. It was even doubtful whether any adequate powers were conferred on the local authorities—and even if they were, they were not bodies which were likely to exercise them efficiently, being such as town councils and vestries; while for years the tendency of legislation had been to take away power from vestries. The reports of the Factory Inspectors showed that in one of the districts (Mr. Baker's) the Act could only be said to be effectually in force in two towns—Leicester, a place of importance, and Look, an obscure town in Staffordshire. Even in the great town of Birmingham itself, which talked so loudly on the subject of education, which had given birth to the National Education League, of which they had recently heard so much, and whose town council were even now claiming, and perhaps, not unreasonably, from the Commission to which he belonged, the sole control of the great endowed school of the town—and though such a measure as the Workshops Act was especially required in a town where trade was carried on in innumerable small workshops—even in Birmingham itself the Act was habitually set at nought by the authorities. Now, if there were no available remedy, complaint would be idle; but Mr. Robert Baker, the well-known Factory Inspector, had for two or three years called attention to the defects, and had laid down a few simple remedies which would almost completely remove them. His proposal was that the dividing line between factories and workshops should be reduced from fifty employés to seven, all establishments above that number being brought within the Factory Acts; that the hours of labour and of education should be the same both for factories and workshops; that there should be the same power of entry to the Inspector in both cases, without any special order from the justices; and lastly, and chiefly that the administration of the Act should be placed under the control of the Inspectors of Factories instead of inefficient local bodies. This would not involve any great expense, and Mr. Baker had drawn up a draft Bill, comprising these and further alterations in detail. Whether so detailed a measure was necessary he would not say; but were these suggestions carried into effect he (Lord Lyttelton) believed that the evils complained of would be remedied. With regard to the general Education Bill, he presumed it would not receive the advantage of such a special provision as this. Nor was education the only object of this Act, which also aimed at protecting women and children from excessive labour, as in the case of the cotton districts.


said, he was glad to be able to assure the noble Lord that the whole question of the Workshops Act, including also the Factory Acts, was under the consideration of the Government, which was fully sensible of the imperfections of these Acts, and of their need of amendment. There could be no doubt from the reports of the Inspectors that the Workshops Act was but very partially applied by the local authorities, and, even where applied, very inefficiently carried out. The hard and fast line which separated factories and workshops worked, in some cases, with injustice, and a number of small trades might, with advantage, be brought within the Factory Acts. There were so many matters of importance now pressing for legislation that it was difficult for the Government to make a selection, and he feared that it would be impossible to deal with this subject in the present Session. Any measure introduced on private responsibility would receive their consideration; but, without giving any positive pledge, the Government sincerely hoped next Session to introduce a Bill.

House adjourned at half past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.