HL Deb 09 April 1878 vol 239 cc943-8

(The Lord Steward.)


Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the subject was of a somewhat complicated character, because the whole of the legislation which had taken place had been the growth of Parliamentary legislation—tentative on the one hand, and, on the other, the subject of a great deal of compromise. The measure to which he asked their Lordships to give a second reading, was a consolidation of 35 years' work and experience. The noble Earl proceeded to give a history of the legislation on this subject, pointing out that the question had attracted the attention of the Legislature at least as early as the year 1816; and that in that year, and in 1818 and 1819, Committees of the Lords had made Reports upon which Bills had been founded, but which did not succeed. In 1832, Mr. Sadler introduced a Bill dealing with the hours of labour, which, though it did not pass, was the foundation of the subsequent measures. In 1833, Lord Ashley introduced a Ten Hours' Bill. Lord Ashley's measure was at first opposed by the Government, but was then accepted by Lord Althorp, and was passed, with many modifications. It prohibited the employment of persons under 18 years of age in night work, and regulated the working hours of children to nine hours a-day. But it was not until 1847, that Mr. Fielden carried the Ten Hours' Bill, by which the hours of labour were restricted to 58 hours a-week, and the age of children limited to nine years. Bills of 1833, 1844, and 1850, referred to persons engaged in textile manufactures only; but in 1867, Mr. Gathorne Hardy introduced and carried two measures—the Factory Acts Extension Act and Workshops Regulation Act—which completed legislation on the subject of hours of labour, by including glass-works, iron-furnaces, paper-manufactures, letter-press printing, bookbinding, and all trades where more than 50 persons were employed. The last Act to which he need refer was that introduced by the present Home Secretary in 1874—the Factories (Health of Women, &c.) Act—by which the hours of labour for women and young children, their meal-hours, the ages under which no child could be employed, and the degree of education which was to be required as the condition of employment, were regulated upon sound and intelligible principles. This Act applied to the textile manufactures only. By these Statutes, and by other Statutes directed specially to the regulation of particular trades—such as the Print Works Act, Bleaching Works Act, Lace Factories Act, the Mines Regulation Act, the Metalliferous Mines Act, and others, this legislation had been extended to every branch of national industry. The Factories and Workshops Act might be classified under three heads—first, those relating to textile manufactures, such as cotton, wool, flax, silk, which were now regulated by the Act of 1874; second, bleach and dye-works; and third, iron-works, paper-manufactures, and others, which came under the Factories and Workshops Acts from 1865 to 1870. Altogether, nearly 2,500,000 persons were affected by these Acts. Of these, it was calculated that 1,000,000 belonged to the first class, and that of these, two-thirds were females and one-third males; while of the 1,500,000, who belonged to the second and third classes, the proportions were reversed, one-third being females and two-thirds males. For many years, all attempts at legislation in this direction had met with great opposition from those who believed that these measures would interfere with the due development of trade and the manufacturing industries of the people, and that the result, if it could be attained, would not compensate for the mischief which would be done. But experience had abundantly falsified those prophets of evil. It had been distinctly shown that the aggregate product of the industries affected, so far from being diminished, had really increased, that human ingenuity had been developed, and that the improvement in the condition of the working population itself had been great and remarkable. The Bill now before their Lordships dealt, as its title stated, with factories and workshops. In laying down what was to be considered a factory and what a workshop, it proposed to substitute for the old definition of those establishments one which was more consonant with common sense. It described a factory a place where steam, water, or other mechanical appliances were in operation for moving the machinery; and a workshop was deemed to be a place where manual labour was employed. The first part of the Bill dealt with the general law relating to factories and workshops, and brought under the operation of the law certain places not hitherto included—such as bakehouses, rope-works, shipbuilding yards, &c. The age for the employment of children in factories and workshops was raised from eight to 10 years; and there were provisions relating to the sanitary condition of these places, the safety of the workpeople, their employment, meal-hours, and education. The second part contained special provisions relating to particular classes of factories and workshops—for instance, in respect of overtime and night-work in particular trades; and an important special exception for domestic and certain other factories and workshops. The third part related to administration, penalties, and legal proceedings. The fourth part consisted of definitions, savings, and the application of the Acts to Scotland and Ireland. In short, the object of the measure was to consolidate the Statutes which had been passed on the subject, in order that those who were engaged in the various industries to which they applied might know what the law really was to which they had to conform, and might be able to conform themselves to it accordingly. As regarded textile factories, the Bill left the settlement which had been made in 1874, and which gained so much approval at the time, practically intact; and with respect to bleaching and dyeing factories, these places were treated as textile factories were with certain modifications. He would point out to the House, that by the provisions of the Bill workshops where no mechanical power was employed would be placed under fewer restrictions than in other cases. There was one clause restricting the general law—power was given to the Secretary of State, acting under the advice of the Inspectors—to relax the law with respect to particular establishments. The preparation of the measure was one of great difficulty, for legislation on the subject had been built up bit by bit and stone by stone; and the time had now come when the whole mass of legislation should be dealt with comprehensively, and should be consolidated into one law. He would point out to their Lordships, that they were hardly in this generation in a position to judge of the benefit conferred by legislation of the past; but witness after witness had stated to the Commission that diseases which used to follow on certain occupations had disappeared, and were now unknown. The legislation now proposed was not merely to affect the generation which now existed, but it would also affect the generation now coming on, and generations of Englishmen to the remotest period of time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Steward.)


said, he had seen with great satisfaction the introduction of this measure, and must express his gratitude to the Government for having dealt with the subject in this comprehensive manner. The noble Earl might have carried his review farther back than he had done. This question of factory labour had been the subject of agitation under Nathaniel Gould, Richard Oastler, John Wood, and others, many years before the Ten Hours' Labour Act was passed, and there were men still living who were known in Lancashire as having taken part, long before that Act, in efforts to obtain legislative restrictions on female and infant labour in factories. In 1833, there were long discussions in Parliament on the subject, and the result was the appointment of the Factories Commission, whose Report was the basis of all the legislation which had been passed since that time. It was impossible to exaggerate the beneficial results of that legislation. The present Bill contained little that was new in the way of direct provision. Its value lay in the fact that it consolidated the whole of the existing Factory Laws—and he was lost in wonder at the amount of toil, of close investigation, and of perseverance, which the Home Secretary must have brought to bear on the preparation of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had had to deal with 45 Acts, extending over a period of 50 years, and in many cases contradictory of each other, often impossible to understand, and impracticable to be put into operation. By this Bill, the whole of this scattered legislation would be brought into one lucid and harmonious whole. He would especially refer to the distinction hitherto drawn between factories and workshops, which had been hitherto treated separately and distinctively, but which were now placed upon the same footing. Henceforward the entire legislation on the subject would be found in a single Statute, simple and intelligible. He had mentioned the Commission of 1833. In 1840 he moved for another Commission, whose inquiries were to extend to trades not covered by the Inquiry of 1833. He had been rebuked because there were tens of thousands of workpeople whom he had neglected, and who had not been brought within any legislation. His reply was that a man could not take up everything at once. The Commission was appointed; but the results were limited to the Collieries Bill, and not for the print-works. In 1860 he spoke to Sir George Lewis, who was then Home Secretary, and told him that the time had come for another Inquiry; because, since 1840, some trades had fallen out, and a good many new trades had come into existence. Their Lordships were acquainted with what had been done since that year. The general result of past legislation on the subject had been to introduce and establish a system of order, content, and satisfaction. The children in the factories presented quite a different appearance from that which was their characteristic in former times—they were now hale and stout, and the adults were grateful to Parliament for the interest it had shown in the amelioration of their condition. A system of order and discipline had been established, which made revolutionary agitation as against the ruling Powers throughout the country very difficult. England had the honour of being the model for other nations in the good work towards the perfecting of which the Bill was directed. As showing that even in the direction of protection for children something had still been required, he might mention that, in this Metropolis; thousands of children under four years old had been employed for many hours a day in the manufacture of lucifer matches. He thought the Secretary of State was entitled to great praise for the labour he had bestowed on his task, and it was his belief that the results of this legislation would correspond to the labour that had been spent upon it. He believed that some 2,000,000 of people of this country would bless the day when Mr. Cross was invited to become the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed, to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.

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