HL Deb 30 July 1875 vol 226 cc209-14

, in calling the attention of the Secretary of State for India to the last Report of Mr. Redgrave, Inspector of Factories, in reference to the regulation of labour in the cotton mills in the Presidency of Bombay, said:—No one, my Lords, who has read Mr. Redgrave's Reports can doubt the importance of the subject brought before your Lordships. I ventured to touch on it last year, when I made some remarks on the new Factory Bill of the Government; but it has been more fully handled by the Inspector, Mr. Redgrave. The question here, I learn, has engaged the attention, and indeed the sympathy, of the noble Marquess at the head of the India Office; but I desire to draw to it the attention of your Lordships and of the country. Mr. Redgrave says— We see a cotton industry springing up in India, extending with rapid strides, and it behoves us to inquire whether that industry is carried on upon the old lines of the cotton manufacture here, and if it is so carried on, as is the common report, by factories making 14 hours a day, it is well that the Legislature should step in while the industry is, so to speak, in its infancy, and by wise and moderate regulations stop the growth of habits of long hours and of the employment of child labour. From the 'Statement of the Moral and Material Progress of India,' it appears that the first steam cotton factory was established at Kurla in 1863, and that there are now in the Bombay Presidency 18 cotton spinning and weaving factories, which employ 405,000 spindles, 4,500 power looms, and 10,000 hands, turning out daily 100,000 lb of yarn. There are also two cotton factories in the Bengal Presidency. It is clear, therefore, that this is a progressive industry, and, looking to what factory legislation has achieved in this country, may we not hope that the native workers of India may be spared the ordeal which our cotton operatives wont through in former days, and that they may be permitted to enjoy the blessings of moderate labour, of ample time for rest and meals, and of protection to children of tender years? This statement by the Inspector contains nearly the whole of the arguments; but I will just add a few more details in further illustration of the necessity of doing something:—In Bombay and the neighbourhood there are now 16 mills, in seven of which the premises are being enlarged; 11 new mills are in course of erection; 2,533 children are employed, of whom only 475 are above 12 years of age, and it is stated in a letter received this morning that some of them are not more than five years old; 2,206 women are employed. The hours of work are 16 per day. All the mills, except two—the Bombay Spinning Company's mill and the Alliance mill—are open on Sundays; the hands have, however, two Sundays per month as holidays. The jute factories in India are chiefly situated on the Ganges. There are about 14 jute mills, with about 50,000 spindles and 3,000 power looms. The hours of work are less than in the cotton mills, but still very much more than in England. Surely these facts are of themselves quite sufficient to show that something should be done to regulate the manufacture and prevent this enormous amount of overwork? Such interference proceeds from no jealousy of the rising trade of India—on the contrary, we rejoice at the growth of this trade: but we wish, while the system is yet young, to save India from all the difficulties and complications to which we have been subject in England. Nor am I stating my own view of the necessity of remedies. The Natives are as anxious for interference as we are. My noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury) shakes his head. Perhaps the masters in India are not anxious; I am speaking of the operatives and the children. I have been reading the Journal of the National Indian Association for the present month, and they begin by rejoicing that a Commission of Inquiry has been issued. They then go on to point out all the evils from which the operatives are suffering—a repetition of the evils which used to harass and destroy our factory operatives at home—terrible exhaustion, dust, 16 or 17 hours a day of unremitting labour, and a temperature varying from 90 to 100 degrees. And they propose the same remedies—limitation of the hours of work, the half-time system for all under 13, education, proper meal-times, and sanitary arrangements. There is also a commercial view to this question. We must bear in mind that India has the raw material and cheap labour; and if we allow the manufacturers there to work their operatives for 16 or 17 hours and put them under no restrictions, we are giving them a very unfair advantage over the manufacturers of our own country, and we might be undersold even in Manchester itself by manufactured goods imported from the East. There is another argument of some importance. English manufactures are weighted in India with an import ad valorem duty of, I believe, 5 per cent. The Manchester Chamber of Commerce will, I doubt not, soon bring this point under consideration. Meanwhile, I trust that we shall have the sympathy of the noble Marquess, and that he will give us an assurance of his earnest and active co-operation. We are only asking for India the same benefits and blessings that we ourselves enjoy. No one can read the Annual Reports upon the "Moral and Material Progress of India" without feeling deep gratitude to God that our rule has been so blessed to the welfare of the Natives. Let us set the crown to this work by also giving the Natives what we earnestly desire for our own population—the boon of healthy work, healthy homes, and good education.


My Lords, my sympathies in this matter are entirely with my noble Friend—and, in fact, the Government has already been neither unobservant nor idle in reference to the question. In April last year my attention was directed to the dangers which might arise from the ill-treatment of little children employed in the growing cotton industry of India, and I directed the attention of the Government of Bombay to the necessity of inquiry, and probably of legislation. Again, in February of the present year we directed an inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining whether any cause for legislation existed; and, if so, what course might be adopted. I was induced to take this course by the facts which came to my knowledge through the agency of a lady whose name cannot be mentioned without honour among all who are interested in moral progress and philanthropic effort in India—I mean Miss Carpenter. Before this time, however, a Commission of Inquiry had already been appointed. That Commission is sitting at the present moment. It has taken a great deal of evidence; but, as its deliberations are not yet concluded, it would not be proper, before its Report is presented, that I should make any definite statement to your Lordships. We must necessarily be guided much by the facts which are laid before us in this Report. There is no doubt, however, that the case is urgent. The cotton industry is growing rapidly. My noble Friend gave some statistics of the development it has reached already, and its future progress appears likely to be still more rapid. There are now 600,000 spindles in the Presidency of Bombay, and there are being prepared and approaching completion at least 500,000 more. The growth of the cotton industry is, therefore, likely to be exceedingly rapid. They produce 1,200,000 bales, and do not make up more than 78,000; so that the balance of this cotton is brought over the sea to Manchester, is manufactured there, and afterwards is taken back in its manufactured form and sold to the Natives of India. At least, this is the history of a great deal of the cotton. In India there is cheap labour, a moist climate, the raw material, and the coal with which to work up the raw material. I do not think it probable, therefore, that the present state of things will long continue. On the contrary, the manufacture of cotton in India for the Indian market will increase every year. My noble Friend is quite right in desiring that this subject should be taken in hand now, for in a few years hence the difficulty of dealing with it will be greatly increased. I am afraid, however, that my noble Friend is too sanguine when he says that the Natives are with us on this question. That is the precise difficulty with which we have to contend. There may be some persons who see the thing in the light in which we see it; but generally this proposal to limit the hours of factory labour is looked upon as a great conspiracy for the purpose of promoting the interests of Manchester manufacturers. There is no subject more commonly discussed, and writers in the Native journals dwell on the wickedness of the English, who are trying to stifle Native manufactures in India under the guise of philanthropy. I am, therefore, glad that my noble Friend is coming forward in this matter, for his philanthropy is, at all events, above suspicion; he cannot be suspected of joining in this dark conspiracy, and trying to stifle the infant manufactures of India in the interests of Manchester. I hope that his well-known efforts on behalf of the factory operatives of his own country will show that he is actuated by none but philanthropic motives in desiring that the Government shall take the same measures for the protection of the women and children, the factory operatives of India. Meanwhile, this is the difficulty in the way of the Government; but it will not be an insuperable difficulty. The history of the Government of India shows, I think, that it will not be deterred by any political obstacles from doing what it believes to be its duty. In its suppression of suttee and of infanticide it was urged on from a sheer sense of duty, in opposition to the traditions and customs of a vast population, and in the face of considerable political danger. Happily, the efforts of the Government have resulted in a discontinuance of those practices. Your Lordships may rest assured that the Indian Government will show no shortcoming in the discharge of its high duties, and will do its best to apply to the population of India the legislation which, under the auspices of my noble Friend, has been already so beneficial to England.

Back to