THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN,
in rising to call attention to the Report to the Board of Trade on the sweating system at the East End of London by the labour correspondent of the Board, and to move a Resolution, said, he wished to confine himself strictly to the consideration of matters to which his Motion alluded. But, in doing so, he desired to guard himself from the supposition that the evils which he should bring before their Lordships were confined to the particular trade and locality about which he intended to speak. As a matter of fact, the evils under what was commonly and very graphically described as the sweating system, were evils which were shared by a great many trades and a great many localities throughout the country. Indeed, in the larger sense, they might be said to be evils which were felt throughout the whole manufacturing interest of the country. They reached right down to the roots of society in that respect. In treating of this subject of the evils of the sweating system, which were caused by purely natural causes, it was obvious that he was touching upon the fringe of a very much larger question; that, in fact, the greatest of the problems of the present time was touched upon. And that problem was whether, under the present circumstances of the world, under the extraordinary advance which science had made, and which enabled the inhabi- 1599 tants of different parts of the world, and the products of the labour of different parts of the world, to be brought so easily and quickly together— whether, under those circumstances, it was, or would long be, possible for a manufacturing country like this to maintain its labouring population at a fair standard of decency or living without endangering the interests of its great manufacturing industries; or whether, on the other hand, in order to maintain those industries, the labour of the country would be forced to degrade itself down to the lowest form of foreign labour with which it might be brought into competition. That was a very great subject, a very great problem; and he did not intend at present to touch upon it at all. In a lesser sense the evils of this sweating system were shared by a great many people. That was a matter on which he hoped to speak at a future time. What he wished to endeavour to do now was to call attention to a very great and crying evil which existed in connection with the trade for ready-made clothing in the East of London. The evils which existed there, as he had said, were caused by natural laws, which in themselves were not by any means of necessity unwholesome in any degree. They were brought about by the perfection of machinery, the increase of population, foreign immigration, and by the development of a great trade in ready-made clothing, brought about to a great extent by the natural exigencies of that trade. But his belief was that, though the causes were perfectly natural in themselves, they had been allowed to run riot and had not been put under proper control, and had thus produced the present terrible state of things. For the last half-century this has been more or less an evil, and it had been brought before the attention of the public from time to time. But in former days the evil was comparatively slight. The tailoring trade was carried on as between the customer, the consumer, the master tailor, and the journeyman. The system of letting out work consisted of the journeyman taking the work home to complete it, which was a very natural, proper, and wholesome state of things. The journeyman was a skilled artizan. He completed the article by the making of which he gained his living. But the circumstances of the trade were 1600 completely changed; they were entirely revolutionized. The necessity for a supply of cheap clothing for consumption at home, but chiefly, he believed, for exportation, had caused the change. The work was now parcelled out, not, as before, between the master tailor and the journeyman, but it was given out to several contractors. These middlemen intervened between the consumer and the ultimate producer who made it. And the labour itself was most minutely sub-divided. As many as six or seven completely different sets of workmen and women were employed in the making of a single garment; and the result was that the people employed, being able to make some particular fraction of the aritcle, were absolutely unable to turn their attention to any other business or trade. It was impossible for them to make a living in any other way, and they were, therefore, practically bound hand-and-foot, and were entirely at the mercy of their masters. These evils had been greatly aggravated by the intense competition in the trade, which was, to a great extent, the result of foreign immigration. The condition of the victims of the system might be said, with perfect truth, to be a condition of slavery with all its disadvantages and none of its advantages. The people were practically in a state of servitude, and entirely dependent upon their masters. The owner of a real slave was, at any rate, bound to support him; but no such obligation was imposed upon the employer in the case of this white slavery. The Report which had been published disclosed a state of things in the East End which was disgraceful to a civilized State, and if it were irremediable, it might well be said to be the despair of a civilized community. All the circumstances of the trade, the hours of labour, the rate of remuneration, and the sanitary conditions under which the work was done, were disgraceful. The Report stated that the average number of hours of labour was 14 per diem, but that 16 and even 18 hours were by no means uncommon. Let them try to realize what 18 hours' work meant. It left only six out of the 24 for rest and for the enjoyment of- things which made life endurable. In this extraordinary trade overtime was not counted. Any number of hours ranging between 12 and 24 1601 were paid for as one day's work. For the work tolerably good wages were in some cases paid—that was to say, they would be fairly good if the work was constant and lasted; but unfortunately it only continued for a brief period in the year. Mr. Burnett in his Report said—The busy season of the trade lasts only for three months of the 12, and during the other nine months the workers do not average more than half-time. Not only is the slack season the worse for the workers in the important matter of earnings, but, strange as it may appear, many of them are also then most cruelly victimized as to the hours they are called upon to work. The sweater so arranges matters that all the work to be done must be got out on the three last days of the week. Thus he will send for his hands, or so many of them as he may require, to start on Thursday morning, and tells them he has received a certain quantity of work, which must be out by the Friday night or the Saturday morning. Work will then commence at 7 o'clock on the morning of Thursday and go on right through the night and up to 4 o'clock on the Friday afternoon. If there is a special pressure of work, real or imaginary, it will be carried on to 6 or 7 o'clock in the evening. For this spell of from 33 to 36 hours the men will receive two days' pay. If they are called upon to work fractions of a day, eight hours is half-a-day and four hours a quarter-day.It was almost impossible to believe that human beings could exist in such conditions as were here described. The protection of legislation had failed to secure for the women engaged in this business immunity from intolerable sufferings. So great were the exigencies of the trade that the women were obliged to work just as hard as the men. It was the practice to parcel work out, and a great number of men and women were employed in making one garment. The work was executed step by step, and the men and women had to keep abreast in the performance of their allotted shares. In the evidence of the chief Factory Inspector, the following pregnant question and answer appeared:—It may be asked why do females work so late, or why do small masters and men live such lives of slavery? The answer is that females are bound to accept the general terms; that although employment to 10, 11, or 12 o'clock at night is distasteful to them, because they are not paid for it, yet, having been brought up in this trade, which unfits them for other employment, they are obliged to submit to the custom that has grown up for years, and if objected to, and another employer sought, the cause of leaving would be a bar to a fresh engagement.The following extracts from Mr. Burnett's Report showed how miserable 1602 was the position which the unfortunate women occupied:—One trouser machinist is mentioned to have earned 11s. 11d. in a very good week, a second trouser finisher, who is paid 4d. per pair for large, thick trousers, which she gets from a woman in the same house, who herself gets them from a sub-contractor, could make 6s. or 7s. per week. Another trouser maker can only earn 1s. 6d. to 2s. per day, out of which she has thread to find. With regard to the earnings of the women engaged in making vests, we find among those mentioned in his Report one who could not earn 5s. a week even by working from 7 a.m. to 12 or 1 a.m., and sometimes sat up till 4 o'clock in the morning to finish work, while another in good trade can make 2s. a day. Turning to the manufacture of children's clothes, we find that one woman who works for a female sweater makes knickerbockers at 1½d. a pair, and can earn 5s. 6d. per week. Another makes children's suits—coat and knickers— for 4½d and 2d. for finishing, but has cotton to find. Working 10 and 11 hours per day can make 4s. 3d. per week. A third case cited by Mr. Burnett is that of a woman of 55 and one of 24 who make children's suits of two garments. The prices for making the whole, except a little braiding done after the work is sent back, range from 3d. to 11d., with cotton to find. One week they started at 0 in the morning and worked until midnight each day, and made much above the average on suits at 3s. per dozen. Their total was 8s. 6d. for the week, or 4s. 3d. each. Their average weekly earnings they estimate at 3s. or 3s. 6d.—enough to pay the rent of their one little room and find them in tea and bread.In fact, the whole thing was summed up by Mr. Burnett in his Report when he stated that it was only by low wages and resolute slave-driving that the small sweaters could make money. It might be right that by the sweat of his brow man should eat bread, and there was dignity in ordinary work; but there was not only no dignity, there was great degradation, in the work to which these unfortunate people were subjected; and the sweat of their brows and of their bodies and souls unfortunately did not yield a sufficiency of bread, and this exorbitant amount of labour for inordinately small remuneration was exacted under the worst sanitary description which it was impossible to describe. Large workshops were the exception. In the "dens" of the sweaters, as they were called, there was not the slightest attempt at decency; men and women worked together for many consecutive hours, penned up in small rooms; and basements, garrets, backyards, wash-houses, and all sorts of unlikely places were the abodes of the sweaters. The Report of Mr. Burnett on these points 1603 was confirmed by that of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops, who said—To add to the evils of the system of overwork pursued by these people we must note the over-crowded, ill-ventilated, and excessively hot state of the work-rooms, where the men work divested of their upper garments, and in profuse perspiration from the vapour given off by ironing clothes under a wet cloth, and close to a large, open coke fire, it is surprising how these people can live under such conditions. In too many instances dwelling-houses, often out of repair and erected without any view of ever being applied to such uses, are utilized for industrial pursuits, for which they are entirely unfitted by construction.On this point Mr. Burnett said—The character of the workshops, or places used as workshops, varies considerably; the smaller sweaters, as has already been remarked, use part of their dwelling accommodation, and in the vast majority of cases work is carried on under conditions in the highest degree filthy and insanitary. In small rooms not more than nine or ten feet square, heated by a coke fire for the pressers' irons, and at night lighted by flaring gas jets, six, eight, ten, and even a dozen workers may be crowded. The conditions of the Public Health Acts and of the Factory and Workshop Regulation Acts are utterly disregarded, and existing systems of inspection are entirely inadequate to enforce their provisions.In a case heard at the Police Court, Mr. Leighton, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors, said of a place in which work was carried on—The stench and foul vapours about the place were very bad; a more unhealthy state of things it would he impossible to imagine.As regarded hours of labour, earnings, and sanitary surroundings, the condition of these people was more deplorable than that of any body of working men in any portion of the civilized or uncivilized world. To his mind their condition was infinitely worse than that of absolute slavery. At any rate, the slave was the property of his owner, and from mere selfish motives a man would not damage his own property; an owner would not underfeed or overwork a slave so as to lessen his value. But these people, who were nominally free men and women, free citizens of a free country, were just as much bound by their environment as slaves were; and they might die of starvation or rot of disease and their masters would not suffer one farthing of damage. It was not strange to find that women were driven upon the streets, and even the strongest men among the machinists 1604 and pressers were killed out in the course of eight or ten years. What a glorious product this was of the civilization of our age—what a noble result of the 19th century, with all its science! The consequence of free competition, which political economists told them was so beneficial, was that men and women had to work 18 hours a-day for merely starvation wages, that women were driven to a life of dishonour as being less degraded than the horrible circumstances which attended a life of honest toil, and that the working life of a strong man was limited to eight or ten years. He had not words to express what he felt on the subject. He wished to appeal, not to emotions, but to the sense of justice, of right and wrong, and to statesmanship. The question was whether these evils were remediable or not. That depended upon what their causes were. The main cause was undoubtedly competition. The depression of agriculture had surcharged the towns with the population of the country, and the depression of trade during the last 10 or 12 years had thrown a great number of men out of employment. The inevitable result had been a pressing down of the labouring population, and men had been driven to seek lower forms of occupation. This applied to all work except the highest forms of skilled labour. This main cause of our trouble had been greatly aggravated by the fact that we had been deluged by a stream of the cheapest kind of foreign labour. Mr. Burnett said—The number of English workers is gradually being reduced owing to the severity of a competition in which those who can subsist on least are sure to be victorious. The supply of cheap labour has of late years been enormous, and when there was the slightest difficulty in obtaining it at prices offered, there was no difficulty in obtaining more people from abroad.The influx of foreign labour had added greatly to the sufferings of British toilers employed in the cheap clothing trade; indeed, it had driven British labour out of that trade; and, as there was no lower depth in the labour world, those who had been displaced had either gone upon the rates or had disappeared by starvation. He could not see the sense of talking about emigration while we were permitting an exhaustless supply of foreign labour to flow into this country. We had plenty of social problems and difficulties of our own 1605 without undertaking those of other nations. Another cause of existing evils was the great sub-division of labour. Cheapness was the one essential of the cheap clothing trade; and the necessity that articles should be produced as cheaply as possible led to the work being minutely sub-divided so that men and women would spend their whole time in basting, felling, buttonholing, running sewing machines, and manufacturing portions of waistcoats or trousers. In itself this was to some extent inevitable; but it was an unfortunate state of things. This system turned men into nothing better than mere machines. It made them work entirely mechanically, and consequently rendered them absolutely incapable of turning their hands to any other kind of work. The two causes which he believed were responsible for the evils which surrounded this trade were the dependence of the people upon their masters and competition, aggravated by foreign immigration. He would not be bold enough to suggest any legislation to meet the case; in fact, he was not at all sure that any legislation was necessary. His own impression was that if the existing law were carried into effect the evil would disappear. But if legislation were necessary he should not shrink for a moment from applying it. He was quite aware that any legislation on the subject would be supposed to be running counter to sound economic theories. But he had very little respect for some economic theories which were held by certain people to be axiomatically true. He had very little sympathy with that phase of Liberal opinion-—using the word in the Party sense — which resisted the Factory Acts and the Acts regulating the labour of women and children in mines, and which, practically speaking, had opposed itself to almost all the legislation which had been of the slightest benefit to the working classes. He had, if possible, less sympathy with the other half of Radical opinion, which looked to what it called collectivity or Communism to afford a relief to the working classes. The former he looked upon as imbecility, or a harmless form of lunacy; the latter as a very dangerous form of lunacy. Of course Communism, if spoken of merely academically, was practically innocuous, but when it became positive it was abso- 1606 lutely destructive, not so much to the classes to whom it was intended to be applied, but to the classes below them, whom it was intended to benefit. But he had a firm belief in steering a middle course between these two phases of thought. He did not believe either in falling down and worshipping the science of political economy, or in running counter to it, but he did believe that the first duty of statesmanship was so to control and direct and neutralize the law as to benefit the human beings with whom it had to deal. If legislation were necessary in this matter he should certainly advocate it, but all that was required was that the existing law should be properly enforced. As Mr. Burnett said in his Report, how could two or three Inspectors keep in check a multitude of these sweating dens in the East of London? The Inspectors really did their work admirably, and it was no fault of theirs that these evils existed. The fault lay in the fact that the Inspectors were not sufficiently numerous, and that they and the sanitary authorities did not pull well together; and on that point he trusted the Government would find it possible to put the law into execution. Either the law ought to be repealed or put into force. It was a ridiculous and scandalous thing that Parliament should pass Factory and Sanitary Acts regulating the hours of labour of women and children, and that those Acts should be grossly violated. Another point was that the penalty inflicted in cases of conviction was a great deal too small, and he was glad to find that he was supported in that view by Mr. Bushby, the police magistrate. The penalty ought to be so great as to make it not worth a man's while to run the chance of conviction. There was only one other point to which he would like to call the attention of the House. It might be argued, and it was a very fair argument, that any legislation or any increased efficiency given to the Executive would increase the cost of production, and so cause loss. That was an important matter, and one that had to be faced. The trade was a large one, amounting to something like £4,000,000 a-year. At present we had nothing whatever to fear from foreign competition, and, as a matter of fact, the trade was in our own hands. Australia alone took goods of this kind from us to the 1607 value of £1,691,709. There was no import of ready-made clothing into this country. On the other hand, this country might have something to fear if the cost of production were unduly raised, but he did not believe that carrying out the law would in any way tend to increase the cost of production. As a matter of fact, the cost of production was immensely increased by the peculiarity of a trade which employed so large a number of middlemen and contractors. The effect of efficiently carrying out the law would be, not to drive the trade out of the country, but to remove the work from these horrible dens into the larger workshops, as to which he believed there had been little or no complaint. Loss of trade had always been put forward whenever an attempt had been made to ameliorate the condition of the people employed in a particular trade. The regulation of the labour of women and children in coal mines had not destroyed the coal trade, and he ventured to prophesy that if the ready-made clothing trade were taken in hand and subjected to proper conditions it would not be found that on that account, at any rate, the trade left this country; but, at all events, he insisted that it was a gross absurdity not to enforce the law or to repeal the law. It was ridiculous to argue that it was necessary to retain the trade by allowing the law of the land to be broken. If the trade could not exist if the law was obeyed, then he could understand the argument that the law ought to be repealed. If, on the other hand, the law was a good one, it was most illogical not to enforce it, even if there was a risk—and he did not believe there was— of losing the export trade. Now, he admitted that that matter was a very difficult one. He submitted that he had said enough to show that it was a very grave one; that a very grave evil existed in their midst; that there was an ulcer in the body politic which, if it could be cured, ought not to be neglected. The subject was one that eminently required deep and careful inquiry to be made into it. It was obvious all through the Report to which he had referred how much such an inquiry was needed. A great deal of the most valuable matter in that Report was taken at second-hand from the Reports issued by various societies and associations. Mr. Burnett 1608 himself admitted the great difficulty of obtaining accurate information, and, therefore, he submitted to their Lordships the great desirability of inquiring most carefully and minutely into all the circumstances of that trade. He did not wish to say anything whatever — he hoped that he had not said anything— detrimental to the character of the employers in that business. He dared say that in some cases the sweaters made exorbitant profits. He believed that in many others, according to the Report, they certainly did not. In any case he did not blame them. He believed that many of them were as much driven by the exigencies of the trade as the sweaters' workpeople. He had just had a letter put into his hands in reference to the sweaters' profits. The writer said he sent him there with a boy's knickerbocker suit that was made by a poor woman last week; that the price paid for the entire making of that suit was 1s. 2d,; that he could not say how much the sweater might have made, but some clue to it might be obtained from the fact that the materials and the making together cost, on the whole, 5s. 10¼d., while the selling price to the public was 16s. 11d. There was certainly a large margin between 5s. 10¼d., the cost of production, and 16s. 11d., the selling price of the article. As regarded an inquiry, he did not know exactly whether it would be best conducted by a Royal Commission or by a Committee of their Lordships' House; but for many reasons he believed that the best form of inquiry would be by a Committee of that House. To be useful such an inquiry must be a searching one, and must be armed with sufficient powers—with powers to examine witnesses on oath, and to indemnify those witnesses who might inculpate themselves by being forced to admit that they had broken the law. He did not think that such an inquiry could fail to be productive of great good. It would search into the very root of the matter; it would enable Parliament to ascertain facts; it would enable Her Majesty's Government to decide whether that great evil which existed among them was remediable; whether, if remediable, it could be cured by carrying into force the law which now existed, or whether further legislation was necessary in order to relieve them from that grave scandal and to 1609 give adequate protection to those unfortunate, poor, helpless people. In conclusion, he begged to move that a Committee of that House be appointed to inquire into the sweating system at the East End of London.
in seconding the Motion, remarked that the subject of foreign pauper immigration was so inseparably bound up with the question of the sweating system that it was almost impossible to say anything about the one without alluding to the other. At the same time, he recognized the propriety of touching lightly on that immigration, because it now formed the subject of an investigation. Those unfortunate foreign immigrants often arrived in this country in the greatest state of destitution, and were soon swept into the sweating shops, where they underwent all the miseries which the noble Earl had that evening so well described. The condition of life in the countries whence these people came enabled them to subsist on very little, their food, he was told, being composed frequently of nothing but stewed fish heads and decayed vegetables. Another kind of immigration which should not be lost sight of in an inquiry of that kind was that which proceeded from the country districts, and which, as he gathered, was increasing at a rapid rate owing to the want of employment in the Provinces. He would, therefore, ask Her Majesty's Government, if they were disposed to grant the proposed inquiry, whether it might not be possible to enlarge its scope so as to make it also embrace that part of the subject? It might appear to their Lordships almost incredible that within three or four miles of that House a state of things involving so much human misery could possibly exist as was to be found at the East End of London. Some of these poor people made artificial flowers at 1d. per gross, and by dint of hard work might possibly earn 7d. a-day. Another trade was that of match-box making. He had entered a house in Shoreditch lately where a girl supported the family of four by making these boxes, at the rate of 2¼d. per gross. The father sometimes made a shilling or two by hawking. They occupied a room about half the size of the lavatory of this House, for which they paid 2s. 6d. rent. Then there was pill-box making, a light kind of work, 1610 which required the most constant application, and by which only the most wretched pittance could be obtained. Such a state of things made the poor ready listeners to agitators. When we lightly condemn demonstrations as nuisances, he thought their Lordships ought not to sit with folded hands merely deploring the grave evil that existed, but ought to see whether they could not find out its real causes, and, if possible, suggest some mode of remedying or of mitigating it. If the Government granted this inquiry, there would be three sources of information open to their Lordships—the extremely valuable Report of the Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, the inquiry into the immigration of paupers, and the present inquiry with regard to the sweating system. These three inquiries might be useful hereafter as the basis for future legislation.
§ Moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the sweating system at the east end of London, and to report thereon to the House; and that the witnesses before the said Select Committee be examined on oath."—(The Earl of Dunraven.)
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
said, that while he quite recognized that the subject touched the whole question of pauperism, he thought it would be an unfortunate circumstance if the Government, supposing they intended to grant the inquiry, were so to enlarge the reference as to include other and important subjects. One advantage of the inquiry would be that information would be obtained as to several efforts which had been made by several needlewomen's agencies to meet the evil to some degree. For instance, there had been established a Needlewomen's Co-operative Association, through whose agency it was hoped, by reducing the number of stages through which work had to pass, to raise the wages of workers. Then there was another co-operative women's association established by several benevolent ladies, which had been worked with considerable success. One great evil which had not been touched upon by the Mover or Seconder of the Motion was what was known as the learners' system. A certain class of employers were in the habit of advertising for female workers, the understanding being that they were to be taught the trade, but were to receive 1611 no wages during the first three months they were employed. At the end of that time, however, the majority of the workers were discharged, having received no wages, and without any prospect of redress. He thought this was a matter which ought to be attended to.
§ LORD ABERDARE
said, he wished that his noble Friend (the Earl of Dunraven) had not needlessly gone out of his way to impart a political complexion to this subject. The noble Earl said that the Factory Acts and all legislation of that kind had been always opposed by the Liberal Party and political economists. Such accusations were altogether unfounded. It was true that the two great measures which had been the foundation of all this legislation were brought forward by an eminent man, who happened to be a Member of the Conservative Party; but he did his utmost, and successfully, to dissociate his action altogether from Party feeling —he meant the Earl of Shaftesbury. That noble Earl brought forward two great measures as to the evils connected with the working of mines and factories. While, however, there were Members of the Liberal Party who were opposed to the measures, there were quite as eminent Members of the Conservative Party who objected to them. Among the most conspicuous opponents in 1845 were Sir Robert Peel and his then Home Secretary, Sir James Graham. The publication of the life of Lord Shaftesbury had made many of their Lordships acquainted with the horrible and degrading evils connected with the working of our mines, which had, to some extent, passed out of memory. Two years ago he had the pleasure of meeting a man well acquainted with the social position of the working man in Europe, M. de Laveleye. He was told by M. de Laveleye, who had just come from a visit to the colliery districts in the North of England, that he was acquainted with nearly every population in Europe, and that he had not met any in which the standard of comfort was so great, and the life of the workmen so fully raised from the degrading position which formerly characterized it. He further pointed out that he himself, while connected with the Home Department, brought in a measure designed largely to extend factory legislation, and that no one could doubt that there 1612 had been a great improvement in the condition of the working classes due to factory as well as sanitary legislation. Forty years ago very nearly a similar state of things existed as was to be found now. This was shown not only by the public attention drawn to the question by the publication of Hood's Song of the Shirt and Kingsley's Alton Locke, but by the Report of a Commission appointed by a daily newspaper, The Morning Chronicle, which gave almost exactly the same account of the evils existing as that given by the noble Earl, except that at that time there was not the same amount of foreign competing labour. He fully admitted that the sweating system created a great deal of misery in the East End. Speaking generally, there probably never was a time when the wage-earning class secured for themselves a larger proportion of the profits obtained by capital and labour. Underneath this general prosperity, however, there was a great mass of misery and distress, much of which resulted from this sweating system; and he should be glad to see what could be done to remedy this state of things. Much, he thought, might be effected by a better application of existing laws, and he should like to see the experiment tried of strictly enforcing those laws in some district and regulating the trade in regard to hours of labour and overcrowding; and he believed that the result would be found in some degree satisfactory, and that the effect would be to increase the value of such labour. If, instead of 16 or 17 hours a-day, the women only worked nine or 10 hours, he believed that they would in the end receive better wages. If the necessary measures were taken for enforcing the law, though the evils of this sweating system might not thereby be absolutely removed, still, he thought, they would be greatly reduced.
THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
said, he thought he spoke the mind of the whole Bench of Bishops when he expressed the deepest interest in this subject, and an earnest hope that the Government would grant the Commission of Inquiry, and that it, he trusted, would be an inquiry full and minute. The fact that there existed great misery in connection with this sweating system was being constantly borne in upon them; but what was wanted 1613 was a systematic and comprehensive knowledge of the whole subject. No doubt, the working population was, in some respects, never better off than at present; but underneath this improved condition of many there existed a great abyss of misery that required thorough investigation. The Factories and Workshops Acts had, so far as they could be applied, no doubt effected much good; but no application of those Acts could adequately deal with the evils of the sweating system as it existed in the East End, for, owing to various reasons, some of which were economical and financial, the system of production could not be carried on in the East End in large factories, and the Work-shops and Factories Acts were wholly inadequate to deal with the countless small hovels in which the cheap work was done. By means of inspection they could not really obtain satisfactory results, for, as one of the Reports that had been referred to had pointed out, the presence of the Inspector in any neighbourhood soon became known; preparations were at once made for his visit; the crowded workers disappeared from "the dens;" and when he arrived the real state of things could not be discovered by him. Then, as to the system of fines— these were so light, and bore so small a proportion to the profits to be made by breaking the law, that they were not in the least deterrent. In any system of fines, care ought to be taken that the fines fell upon the right persons. There were a vast number of sweaters who were as miserable as the people who were called their victims. Much work passed through four or five ranks of middlemen between the original employer and the workers themselves. The lowest class of sweaters were themselves sweated, and could scarcely keep soul and body together. The number of people engaged in this trade in the East End was enormous; the foreign Jews alone were estimated to number 16,000; and so large a class reduced to such misery in the midst of a vast city was a great danger underlying our social institutions. When they considered the largeness of this class, the insanitary condition in which it lived, the physical and mental decay which it must involve from generation to generation, and the necessary absolute lack of almost any care bestowed by parents on their child- 1614 ren, they must all feel convinced that Christianity and religion could do no better work than to endeavour to discover some remedy for this grievous state of things. He felt sure that such an endeavour would receive the co-operation of all Parties.
THE SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (The Earl of ONSLOW)
said, he must thank the noble Earl for bringing forward this subject, and treating it in so exhaustive a manner; but he should be sorry if it were supposed, from the remarks of the noble Earl who had so ably introduced the subject, that any one of their Lordships, or either Party in that House, was not deeply anxious to find a remedy for the evils which had been spoken of, and to promote the well-being of the poor. The sweating system was a term not easily understood; but it appeared to be so called by analogy to the sweating of coinage, and it meant an abuse of the contract system, by which an undue amount of labour was got out of the poorer classes for inadequate wages. If any satisfaction at all could be got out of so melancholy a subject as this, it was, perhaps, to be found in the fact that almost the whole of the unfortunate people engaged in this sweating system in the East End were not our fellow-subjects, but were either Polish Jews, or Germans, or people of other nationalities. Nineteen-twentieths of those engaged in coat-making and trousers-making by the contract system were foreigners. This contract system, so far as the British tailor was concerned, was practically extinct. English tailors now worked in the master tailor's own shop, under foremen. They were all aware of the great depression that had occurred in the trade and the agriculture of the country. But while rents and the profits of trade had been reduced, very little had been heard of a reduction in wages; absolute want of employment there was; but it might be taken as a fact that the wage-earning class had suffered least of all from the depression. Thus, in the trunk-making trade, prices paid to contractors had fallen in the last three years 53 per cent, while wages had risen 10 per cent. Similarly, in the saddle and harness-making trade, though prices had fallen, wages had not fallen in the same proportion. This clothes-making trade, however, was 1615 under very different conditions, and those engaged in it were, for various reasons, unable, by means of combination, to keep up the price of their labour. They landed in this country in a state of destitution; they could not speak a word of English; and, worst of all, they were unable to trust each other. Some time ago some of them met together, and agreed not to accept less than a certain wage; but the next day some of the very persons who thus agreed went and accepted a lower wage. All attempts at combination had entirely broken down. There was also another reason why this sweating system continued. English workmen would do a fair day's work, but it was found necessary in the case of these foreigners to have a system of constant supervision, such as that obtained by this system of sub-contracts. A considerable amount of misconception existed as to the scope of the Factories and Workshops Act. From the operation of its provisions were expressly excluded two classes of workshops — domestic workshops, in which the only persons employed were members of the same family dwelling there, and those "conducted on the system of not employing children or young persons therein." With these the Inspectors of the Home Office had no power to deal. The Local Authority, however, had power under that Act and under the Public Health Act, 1875, to deal with the insanitary or overcrowded state of workshops as nuisances, and it was more to the action of the Local Authorities that we must look in this matter than to the action of the Government Inspectors. Nor had the Inspectors any power, even where children and young persons were employed, to deal with the surroundings or access to these workshops. It was practically impossible for them to control the sanitary conditions which might obtain in and around the workshops themselves. Another great difficulty was due to the fact that the sweaters were constantly changing their system—sometimes they employed all men, sometimes men and women, and at other times women and children. The investigations of the Inspector were thus made all the more difficult. The Government had not been entirely idle in this matter. An inquiry had been pursued by one of the Inspectors to the Home Office as to the 1616 observance of the factory regulations with regard to sanitary matters, hours of meal time, and the cleanliness and ventilation of the workshops, and with regard to overtime at night work. But it was extremely difficult for any successful prosecutions in these cases, because if the Inspector went alone his evidence was unsupported and was contradicted by the evidence of the master and I employés, and it was impossible to secure a conviction. There were about 2,000 of these workrooms employing about 20,000 people. In 1884 the Inspectors visited and inspected 1,478 workrooms and made the following Report. There were 724 workrooms in which men only were employed, and these were exempt from the Factory Act; 387 workrooms over the sanitary condition of which the Inspectors had no control; and 367 workrooms which in all things were subject to the Factory Act. The condition of the premises in the first two classes was most unsatisfactory in 907 out of the 1,111 cases. In the third class they were unsatisfactory in 235 out of 367 cases. Lists, with the names and addresses, were forwarded to the Local Authorities', who effected much improvement. During the last six months another inquiry had been made, in the course of which 276 workrooms under the Act had been visited—216 were found to have sufficient cubic space, and 48 insufficient; 158 were clean and in a sanitary condition, and 102 were not. The Inspector paid 169 visits to sweaters' workrooms at meal times and at night. In 14 instances he discovered irregularities; but in only four cases could he secure sufficient evidence to prosecute. In three of these cases a conviction was obtained, and one case was still pending. It ought to be borne in mind that these foreign Jews were not accustomed to English ideas of cleanliness; and, being unable to speak English, they were debarred from that social intercourse with their English neighbours which might have led them to follow their example. The Local Authorities had jurisdiction, over the premises in which the workshops were contained under the law which applied to ordinary dwelling-houses; but filthy habits, failure of pipes, taps, and defective drains all endangered health. The landlord, however, who only looked for his rent, 1617 would take no voluntary action. In the Report—1886–7—of the Poor Jews' Temporary Shelter in Leman Street, out of 1,162 persons received no fewer than 434 returned themselves as being without a calling, which was a most serious proportion among adult males; and it was from this class almost entirely that the workshops of sweaters were being recruited. The noble Earl who introduced the subject had visited the sweaters with righteous indignation; but they were really to be commiserated, for they were themselves in a very difficult position. The contractors were constantly lowering the prices, and the sweaters were compelled to lower the wages. One of them, asked if he were a sweater, said—" Certainly, I am a sweater. I sweat from 6 o'clock in the morning to midnight six days out of the seven, and my earnings are exceedingly small." The sweater had to put up with profits not greater than those of his best hands. One reason why this evil went on increasing was, he thought, the idea prevalent in foreign countries that the streets of London were paved with gold, and that foreigners had only to come here to find plenty of work. He had heard it said that advertisements were even inserted in foreign papers in the Jewish language announcing that there was plenty of work to be obtained in London. With regard to the remedies mentioned in Mr. Burnett's Report for the existing state of things, it had, first of all, been suggested that the Factory Acts should be applied to men. For his part, he should be very sorry to see any such extension. No doubt, it was necessary for the protection of some classes of the population, such as women and children, that legislation should step in, for they were not in a position to protect themselves; but he should be very sorry if anything was done by their Lordships to interfere with the means of full-grown men obtaining a livelihood in the severe struggle for existence. Another suggestion was that there should be a limitation of hours; and to this, again, what he had said as to the extension of the Acts to men in a great measure applied. It had also been urged that the Government contracts should not be given out to sweaters. But in the case of Government contracts there was no cause for 1618 complaint, for the prices paid were considerably higher than generally pre-prevailed for lower-class clothes. Thus the Government paid 2s. for the making of a postman's coat, whereas a well-finished coat, with linings and trimmings, was made by these unfortunate people for 1s. 2d. or 1s. 4d. at the most. It was also suggested that a Commission of Inquiry should be held. He quite agreed with his noble Friend who had brought forward this subject that it was one of great importance. It had been brought prominently under notice by the recent Report of Mr. Burnett—a man eminently qualified to deal with the subject, having been secretary for many years of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, a trade union which, in 1886, had a membership of 51,689, and possessed 432 branches in different parts of the Empire, in the United States, and in France. But Mr. Burnett had himself experienced the difficulties of obtaining full and correct information on this subject, owing to the unwillingness of people to come forward and give evidence. There was also a great conflict of evidence between that of the sweaters and that of the workers. He thought it was desirable that the two classes should be confronted before a competent tribunal such as was now suggested, and that the evidence should be well sifted. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Sandhurst) had suggested that the inquiry should assume a larger sphere; but this subject was one of great difficulty and importance, and he thought that a Committee appointed to inquire into it would have quite enough to do, and, moreover, there was already a Committee of the other House appointed to inquire into the kindred subject of foreign pauper immigration. He, therefore, did not think that the terms of the noble Earl's Motion ought to be extended. Care ought to be taken not to drive the trade away altogether from this country, which would be a considerable loss. Possibly, if these dens were to be entirely swept away, there would be a danger of the trade being driven abroad, and of the finished articles coming into this country instead of being made here. With so many noble Lords in that House who were philanthropists and took a deep interest in all questions affecting the social welfare of the people, he believed that a Committee of their 1619 Lordships' House, which would exhaustively inquire into and report upon the whole subject, would receive the confidence and respect of the public. On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, he had to say that they would assent to the Motion of the noble Earl.
§ Motion agreed to.